How can I reconcile the good and evil of Jean Vanier?
I can no longer in good conscience call Jean Vanier a saint, but I cannot accept the disturbing truth about him as proof, as some have understood it, that sanctity does not exist.
By Colleen Dulle
I keep a photo of Jean Vanier on my desk. It is painful to look at today.
I’ve written almost completely uncritically about the founder of L’Arche several times at America: I called him a “revered spiritual master and prophetic voice” whose messages “always bear repeating” in a review of his last book; I wrote America’s obituary of Vanier; I teared up on camera while talking with Tina Bovermann of L’Arche USA about Vanier’s life.
Now, L’Arche has released an internal report detailing credible allegations of sexual abuse against Vanier by six non-disabled women. The report says that Vanier initiated sex in the context of spiritual direction and offered “highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviors.” This kind of behavior echoes the sexual abuse perpetrated by Vanier’s spiritual mentor, Father Thomas Philippe. The new L’Arche report also shows that Vanier lied about how much he had known about accusations against Father Philippe.
Ms. Bovermann, the L’Arche spokeswoman I interviewed just after Vanier’s death, spoke to my colleague Michael J. O’Loughlin about the abuse allegations against Vanier: “I can’t wrap my head around it,” she said.
Nor can I.
I don’t mean that I disbelieve the women who brought these accusations forward. The public excerpts of their testimonies were harrowing, and I trust the thoroughness of the third-party investigation. What I mean is that it is difficult for me to reconcile Vanier’s abuse with my long-held image of him as a saint.
I was introduced to Jean Vanier’s thought as a senior in college, when I was stressed about my impending graduation to “the real world.” Would I make enough money? Would I move up quickly in my career? Would people think well of me?
One night, I sat with my friend Katie, who had recently returned from a year at a L’Arche community in Ireland. In response to my anxieties, she asked if I’d ever heard of Jean Vanier. She explained to me his idea that, while society tells us we will only find happiness by climbing the ladder of wealth and prestige, true Christian happiness comes from climbing down the ladder, choosing to give up power and money in order to live in community and solidarity with the poor and outcast.
The idea was a revelation. I chewed over it for hours in my prayer and writing and tried to apply it, however poorly, in my decision-making. I deeply wanted the true happiness Vanier pointed to. I read his books and listened to his interviews slowly and meditatively and urged others to do the same. After he died, I hung a photo of him on my desk. Like many, I believed he was a saint.
Part of me wonders now if I was foolish, if I should have known better than to valorize any Catholic this way after watching Theodore McCarrick’s precipitous fall from grace in 2018 or even watching St. John Paul II’s record on sexual abuse be called into serious question after hearing the crowds chant “Santo Subito” in 2005. If such widely respected men could commit decades of abuse or turn a blind eye to allegations, why should I have believed Jean Vanier could not do the same?
I think of the women who had to endure the trauma of hearing a man who had sexually manipulated them be called a “living saint” when he was alive and as the world eulogized him. Although none of the women’s allegations were public until this morning, perhaps if those of us praising him had thought more critically about Vanier’s relationship with Father Philippe, we would at least have been more hesitant to canonize Vanier in our popular imagination.
This kind of critical thinking will be vital as those of us who admired Vanier struggle to reconcile the good he did with the abuse he perpetrated. It is difficult, but possible and necessary, to hold the truth of both Vanier’s good and evil at the same time. Holding these facts in tension both invites, as the leaders of L’Arche International wrote, “mourn[ing] a certain image we may have had of Jean” and raises important concerns about who holds power in the church, the ways that power can corrupt those who hold it and the disturbing links between spiritual and sexual abuse in so many similar cases in the church. L’Arche, especially, faces a long road ahead of reimagining its past and protecting against future abuses.
Mourning and grappling with the upsetting paradox of Jean Vanier has made me angry, but I am trying to resist letting it drive me to despair. I can no longer in good conscience call Jean Vanier a saint, nor will I hypothesize about any conversion he may have had before or after his death, but I cannot accept the disturbing truth about him as proof, as some have understood it, that sanctity does not exist. Rather, I think it challenges us to consider our own and others’ simultaneous capacity for profound goodness and evil, to seek models of holiness away from the world’s spotlight and to pursue holiness ourselves far from the spotlight, at the bottom of the ladder.
Source: How can I reconcile the good and evil of Jean Vanier? | America Magazine
Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary, advocate and confidant: What you need to know about Georg Gänswein
Archbishop Georg Gänswein is publishing a memoir of his years with Pope Benedict. But the archbishop is a compelling figure in and of himself.
By Jim McDermott
One of the central figures in the days surrounding Pope Benedict’s wake and funeral has been Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the pope’s longtime private secretary. It was Archbishop Gänswein who was at Benedict’s bedside when he died and reported that a nurse had heard Benedict say, “Jesus, I love you,” a few hours earlier; he also greeted mourners who came to visit Benedict’s body when it lay in state at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Later this week, he will be publishing a memoir of his years with Pope Benedict, Nothing But the Truth: My Life Beside Pope Benedict XVI. And while the book promises to tell the story of Benedict’s papacy from behind the scenes, Archbishop Gänswein is a compelling figure in and of himself. He has an amateur pilot’s license, loves the outdoors and plays tennis. As a young man he had long hair and listened to Cat Stevens and Pink Floyd. Working for Benedict, he aspired to be a “pane of glass,” allowing the “sunlight” of Benedict in without becoming visible himself. Yet his own good looks inspired fashion shows, magazine covers and stories around the world. After Benedict’s resignation, he worked simultaneously for both Benedict and Pope Francis in key positions, leading La Stampa to suggest he was “almost a ‘third pope.’” But in 2020, he was relieved of most of his Vatican duties after seeming to use Benedict to publicly undermine Francis.
Who is this paradoxical, controversial figure?
A childhood spent mining for meaning
Georg Gänswein was born in 1956 in a village in southwestern Germany. The oldest son of a blacksmith active in local politics, Gänswein saved for college by working as a mailman and dreamt of being a stockbroker. “My idea was that there was a lot of money being made and that you had to be bright and fast,” he told Süddeutsche Zeitung in 2007. But the more he considered that career, the more he wondered about what kind of meaning it would offer him. “I thought, O.K., if I can do all that and have money, what happens then?”
“Suddenly, existential questions took center stage,” he told the German magazine, leading him to the study of philosophy and theology. And the more he dug in, the more he came to believe that only as a priest could he fully enter into the deeper investigations of theology. “At some point I felt that I couldn’t drive at half speed, either I’d do it completely or I’d quit,” he said. “A little theology, that’s not possible. So, step by step, I approached the priesthood.” In 1976, he entered the seminary for the Archdiocese of Freiburg.
Gänswein: ‘The study of canon law felt to me as dry as working in a dusty quarry where there is no beer.’
After being ordained in 1984, Father Gänswein worked for a time as an associate pastor in his diocese before being assigned to get a doctorate in canon law at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. He initially hated it. “I had always studied gladly and easily,” he told Süddeutsche, “but the study of canon law felt to me as dry as working in a dusty quarry where there is no beer. You die of thirst.” With the help of a good director, he produced a dissertation in 1993 on the ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council.
Father Gänswein’s predecessor, then-Archbishop Stanislaus Dziwisz, had warned him that his most important job was as the pope’s gatekeeper, and in the early going, Father Gänswein admitted that navigating “the countless requests for private audiences and other encounters” was difficult. But a more unexpected and complex challenge for Father Gänswein was the massive media attention that he found himself receiving.
Almost from the start of Benedict’s papacy, commentators made a point of remarking on Father Gänswein’s good looks.
Almost from the start of Benedict’s papacy, commentators and others made a point of remarking on Father Gänswein’s good looks. The Italian press dubbed him “Gorgeous Georg”; in 2007, fashion icon Donatella Versace used him as an inspiration for her 2007 Clergyman Collection. And his handsome features frequently became a focus of stories during papal visits.
In describing a papal visit to the United Kingdom, John Hooper at The Guardian describes Father Gänswein as “A tall, athletically built man wearing a broad pink sash over his priestly black garb…the pope’s good-looking private secretary, who will no doubt become one of the stars of the four-day visit.” That same year, the Irish author Colm Tóibín called Father Gänswein “remarkably handsome, a cross between George Clooney and Hugh Grant, but, in a way, more beautiful than either.” When consecrated bishop early in 2013, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair put him on the cover of their January 2013 issue, with the headline “Father Georg—it’s not a sin to be beautiful.”
Benedict’s papacy suffered through a number of significant controversies—his citation in a speech at Regensberg of a 14th-century emperor who argued that the only thing that the prophet Muhammad “brought that was new…[were] things evil and inhuman”; clergy sexual abuse scandals; and the Vatileaks scandal, which would reveal that the pope’s own butler had for years been stealing correspondence between Benedict and Father Gänswein and then sold some of it to the press, out of a concern that Benedict himself was being kept in the dark about “evil and corruption” in the church. And Father Gänswein was always at his side.In 2007, he called the Regensberg speech “prophetic” and the protests that ensued around the world “crude reactions.” In recent days, he has said that Benedict was the “father of transparency” and “the decisive figure” in matters of sexual abuse.
And in his new book he describes Benedict’s papacy as frequently attacked by the devil. In an excerpt from La Reppublica about the Vatileaks scandal, he writes, “It’s obvious, as Pope Francis would say, that the bad guy, the evil one, the devil doesn’t sleep.”
Pope Francis: divided and dividing loyalties
In December 2012, Father Gänswein was appointed the head of the papal household and appointed to the rank of archbishop. This brought with it an even larger role in the Vatican—responsibility for every public papal audience in Rome, papal visits with heads of state and bishops, any papal travel within Italy and care for many of the Vatican’s buildings. It seemed to signal an ever deeper trust on the part of Benedict.
But behind the scenes Father Gänswein had been privy to a secret that no one else yet knew: Benedict was planning to resign. Over the last week, Archbishop Gänswein has begun to reveal details of Benedict’s last few months and how he pleaded with Benedict not to resign. “Holy Father, it’s impossible,” he recalls telling the pope. But Benedict would not be swayed. “This is a decision I’ve made…it’s not a thesis to be discussed,” the late pope said.
For some, that cast Archbishop Gänswein’s promotion into a different light. John Cornwell wrote in Vanity Fair that the appointment was a way for Benedict to be able to remain informed on what was going on in the Vatican. “Since this was one of Benedict’s last big appointments before his resignation,” Mr. Cornwell notes, “it would be difficult for the new Pope to countermand it without seeming disrespectful.”
In his early years working with Francis, his opinion of him seemed generally positive.
As it turns out, upon his election Pope Francis decided not to live in the papal apartments or to hold his normal meetings there, but instead took a room at the Casa Santa Maria guest house. And while Archbishop Gänswein remained the head of the papal household after Benedict’s resignation, he moved with the pope to the converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens that served as Benedict’s retirement home.
In his early years working with Francis, his opinion of him seemed generally positive. In 2015, while noting “a degree of unpredictability in [Francis’] action…the surprises at the last moment that are never lacking,” Archbishop Gänswein praised Francis’ work ethic, saying: “He is an extraordinary phenomenon. He works for two, and is 78 years old.” He also praised his spiritual life; “the coherence between his very active life and the time he dedicates to prayer is impressive; it is a contemplative life.”
A year later, Gänswein gave a talk at the Pontifical Gregorian University in which he argued that Francis and Benedict represented a new vision of the papal office, “a de facto extended Petrine ministry—with an active member and a contemplative member.” When questioned about this, Francis corrected the idea, telling reporters, “There is only one pope.”
That moment captured well the apparent conflict within Father Gänswein in his new position. As Pope Benedict’s private secretary, Father Gänswein made it his mission to “be transparent as glass so as not to conceal Benedict XVI in any way.” He came to identify with Benedict so intimately that when meeting a writer critical of Pope Benedict, he said, “Oh, you don’t like us.” Now he was being asked to serve a new pope with his own vision while also being the main caretaker of the well-being and legacy of his predecessor.
Archbishop Gänswein has spoken critically of the pope’s Synod on Synodality, saying he believes the texts generated “will not be fruitful.”
In 2017, he read a letter from Benedict at the funeral of Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who had criticized Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” praising Cardinal Meisner’s faith “even if the boat [of Peter] has taken on so much water as to be on the verge of capsizing.” It was widely interpreted as an attack on Francis. Some wondered whether it and other moves like it truly came from Benedict at all. Just a year earlier, Benedict had reaffirmed “my obedience to my successor” and said he felt “a sense of deep communion and friendship” with Francis.
Speaking to the puzzling contradiction of this, David Gibson recently noted in Slate that Benedict “continued to write, to send letters. But how much of that was Gänswein? Especially in the last couple years, it’s hard to tell how much of that was Gänswein pulling the strings.”
In 2020, Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope Benedict together put out a book pushing for clerical celibacy at exactly the time Francis was publicly considering the possibility of married clergy in discussions at the Amazon synod. When the publication of this book made waves, Archbishop Gänswein insisted Benedict was not a co-author; he had simply contributed a chapter to the book. But in fact, other than a preface and conclusion, the book had only two chapters, the first of which was by Benedict.
Almost immediately, Archbishop Gänswein vanished from public functions of the papal household. This was explained at the time as “due to an ordinary redistribution of the various commitments and duties of the prefect of the Papal Household.” Later Archbishop Gänswein revealed that Francis had effectively removed him from the job, asking him to devote all his energy to caring for Benedict, which Archbishop Gänswein said “pained” him and felt like a “punishment.”
In February 2022, Archbishop Gänswein spoke critically of the pope’s Synod on Synodality, saying he believes the texts generated “will not be fruitful,” and implied that the concept behind the synod was not Catholic. “If I want a different Church that is no longer based on revelation, so to speak, if I want a different structure of the Church that is no longer sacramental but pseudo-democratic, then I must also see that this has nothing to do with Catholic understanding, with Catholic ecclesiology, with the Catholic understanding of the Church.”
In his new book—advance copies of which began to be sent out just hours after Benedict’s funeral—Archbishop Gänswein seems ready to issue more criticism of Francis alongside defending Benedict’s legacy. He told the German paper Die Tagepost that Francis’ restrictions on the Latin Mass hit Pope Benedict “very hard”: “I think it broke Pope Benedict’s heart to read that motu proprio.” He also writes that Benedict did not agree with the way that Francis answered questions on abortion and homosexuality in his 2013 interview with La Civiltà Cattolica editor in chief Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and said that he himself was never able to achieve “a climate of trust” with Francis.
The theologian Massimo Faggioli said of Archbishop Gänswein’s decision to do a tell-all book and publish it within days of Benedict’s death “[at] the very minimum, it’s very bad taste.” Mr. Gibson, who has written a book about Pope Benedict, agrees: “He’s being incredibly divisive. But Benedict took a lot of flak, and he’s going to defend his man.”
Source: Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary, advocate and confidant: What you need to know about Georg Gänswein | America Magazine
Theologian Matthew Fox on Pope Benedict XVI’s complicated legacy
History will remember Pope John Paul II as the person who brought back the Inquisition and who handpicked Cardinal Ratzinger to be its chief Inquisitor as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, CDF, formerly known as the Office of the Sacred Inquisition.
The name was changed after the Second Vatican Council under Pope Paul VI. Though the Council had called for freedom of expression and opinions among theologians, all that came to an abrupt halt under JPII and Benedict XVI who as head of CDF and then as Pope Benedict XVI, managed to silence, suppress or expel 107 theologians from countries all around the world, myself included.
I list the names of these persons in my book on Ratzinger, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved.
As I know from my experience with him, Cardinal Ratzinger was a bully of the first order. His brother, who was a priest in Germany, admitted to physically abusing boys in his choir though denied he was part of the sexual abuse of the boys that also occurred in that same choir.
Yale psychology professor Young Shin Kim, an expert on bullying, says 85% of bullying cases happen for the benefit of an audience. That is clearly a big part of the raison d’etre for Benedict’s actions against Leonardo Boff in Brazil, Eugene Drewermann in Germany and myself in North America. This same psychologist observes that “bullying is often used to maintain the social pecking order” and there was plenty of that going on in JP II and Benedict’s Vatican.
Criminologist William Black tells us that Bullies play a well known game. Their strategy is to intimidate…They must be confronted….Bullies are cowards…Giving in to bullies guarantees that they will act ever more abusively…An adult who repeatedly gives in to a bully is a coward.
When it comes to Ratzinger and myself, a big synchronicity occurred for me last Friday. On the exact day that Cardinal Ratzinger died, I finished a major task of sorting my papers and loaded them up in a U Haul for shipping to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where they will be digitized and made available for future generations to study.
A relative of mine who is a practicing Catholic pointed out the special synchronicity of that day because a chunk of my papers (two boxes of 36) holds correspondence twixt Rome, my provincial and myself. Also, thousands of letters of support written to the Vatican or to Dominican headquarters by Catholics and people of other and no faith traditions supporting my work.
That that journey happened on the same day that Pope Benedict’s soul took its journey is, well, surprisingly synchronistic.
Source: Pope Benedict XVI’s Legacy, continued – Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox