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


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.

NBC News’ Joshua Johnson and Boston Globe former Spotlight editor Walter Robinson discuss Benedict’s admission of presence at a 1980 meeting on priestly pedophilia.

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. 

Matthew Fox’s archival records, packed up to go to the University of Colorado. Photo by Matthew Fox.

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

Canadian nun, sexologist: Catholics must increase their sexual maturity 

Immaculate Conception Sister Marie-Paul Ross told the French-language Canadian news agency Presence info that the faithful must accept that ecclesial structures might need to change.

QUEBEC CITY (CNS) — A Canadian nun with a Ph.D. in clinical sexology said the sex abuse crisis in the church does not mean “the end of faith” but rather “the end of a lack of formation and the end of deviance,” and a call to return to Jesus’ message of love.

Immaculate Conception Sister Marie-Paul Ross told the French-language Canadian news agency Presence info that the faithful must accept that ecclesial structures might need to change.

“If we really want to save the faith, the spiritual experience of the people, the depth of Christianity, and focus on evangelical values, we have no choice but to let go of the structures Continue reading “Canadian nun, sexologist: Catholics must increase their sexual maturity “

How abused boy scouts made the French church tremble 

The conviction of the archbishop of Lyon for covering up paedophilia in his diocese is a victory for victim and campaigner Francois Devaux, whose dogged efforts to publicise the abuse have made him a hero — and a reluctant cinema star. Archbishop Philippe Barbarin, 68, the most senior French cleric caught up in an abuse […]

Source: How abused boy scouts made the French church tremble – Journal du Cameroun

The Berlinale presents the Grand Jury Prize to François Ozon for “Thank God”, his film on pedophilia in the Church

On Saturday evening, the Berlin Film Festival awarded the Jury Grand Prize to French director François Ozon’s film “Grace to God” on pedophile scandals in the Catholic Church. The Grand Prix is ​​the second major award of the Berlinale after the Golden Bear. This prize was awarded before a court decision Monday on a possible postponement of the release of the film in France.François Ozon shares the prize with his heroes

“This film tries to break the silence of powerful institutions” on these cases of sexual abuse of children, said François Ozon receiving his reward. “I want to share this award with the free men who inspired me” who “were victims of a pedophile priest,” he added, moved. “Alexandre, François and Pierre-Emmanuel, you are my heroes,” greeted the 51-year-old French director.

“Thanks to God” tells the birth of the association of victims The liberated Word, founded in Lyon in 2015 by former scouts abused by a pedophile priest, Bernard Preynat. In total, the association lists nearly 85 victims of this priest. The film follows three victims, incarnated on the screen by the actors Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet and Swann Arlaud.
The subject is in full relevance in France, while held in early January in Lyon the trial of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, and five other people for not denouncing pedophile sexual assault in this case, so-called Barbarin case . The judgment is expected on March 7th. Charged with sexual assault since January 2016, Father Preynat could be tried this year.

Source: The Berlinale presents the Grand Jury Prize to François Ozon for “Thank God”, his film on pedophilia in the Church

Cardinal’s cover-up trial puts French Catholic Church in glare of abuse scandal

The highest-profile Catholic cleric to be caught up in a paedophile scandal in France goes on trial on Monday charged with failing to report a priest who abused boy scouts in the 1980s and 90s.

Source: Cardinal’s cover-up trial puts French Catholic Church in glare of abuse scandal