Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Winter In The Forest: The Unmasking of Jean Vanier

During 2019 I was involved in the promotion of Summer In The Forest. The blurb for  the movie reads:

SUMMER IN THE FOREST invites us to abandon the rat race and forge new friendships. Amid the ancient trees, Philippe, Patrick, Jean and the others welcome us into their lives. If there are rules to break, they will be broken and if there is a truth to be told, they will tell it. Michel reveals his war torn past, Andre is desperate for a date, and young David will prove himself a hero in the fight against the forces of evil.

Now in hindsight those lines there are rules to break, they will be broken and if there is a truth to be told, they will tell  have become ominous as the truth of Jean Vanier's life unravels.

Across our L'Arche communities,among our supporters and in the world that longs for heroes a trust has been betrayed, a lie has been exposed and a myth has vanished.As we struggle to understand the depth of this deception by a religious leader we now find ourselves caught in the Winter in the Forest.

I offer these  outlines of the revelations that have been made public as well as  a selection of  responses and music that I am finding helpful in these  dark days.

In a letter dated 22th February 2020, the Leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney wrote to the L’Arche Federation:
“We are shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier otherwise stood for. They are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and dignity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L’Arche is based.
We recognize the courage and suffering of these women, and of any others who may not have spoken up. We also want to express our gratitude to the women who, by speaking out a few years ago about Father Thomas Philippe, helped others to liberate themselves of a burden of shame and suffering they did not deserve to be carrying. To all of them, we ask forgiveness for these events which took place in the context of L’Arche, some of which were caused by our founder”.
L’Arche is committed to making sure that its 154 communities across the world are places of safety and growth for all its members, with and without disabilities.

 L'Arche Community Brisbane leader Michael Hutchinson said he was "stunned" by the report detailing Jean Vanier's shocking sexual misconduct with six women. (Full report)

A Light Extinguished By Michael W. Higgins

There is no illegality in any of this; no preying on youth or on the disabled; no calls for compensation. Just a sad but determined effort to cleanse the waters of perception, listen with compassion to the victims, look at the origins of L’Arche in in an unblinkered manner, begin the tasks of healing and of telling the truth. Lies and deception, subterfuge and evasion, have compromised the integrity of the mission of L’Arche. But the international body responsible for the inquiry is committed—with a subdued and eloquent dignity, in my opinion—to recovering its purpose and ensuring its survival by demystifying its origins, holding accountable the spiritual father and spiritual son, and redressing the evils committed.
Permit me to conclude with a passage from my soon-to-be-pulped biography that speaks to the enduring good of the Vanier vision, a good that must not be erased from our memory, a good that allows us to see beyond the fractured founder to the deeper truth of our broken humanity: “Vanier’s spirituality of the wounded is a spirituality enmeshed in the world of broken bodies, broken minds, broken spirits. Vanier knows to break open Albert Camus’s ‘plague of cerebration’ that poisons our culture, to expose to the open air the fallacies of reason, we must allow ‘the wounded’ to heal our wounds and touch our invisible scars of heart and mind.”
L’Arche International, in conducting this investigation, was motivated by nothing less than allowing the wounded to heal our wounds with the light of truth.

The Vanier case reaffirms an argument I have made in this column before, which is that the church's radically patriarchal leadership structure and theology are at the root of most sex abuse cases in the church.
Patriarchy is any system in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it. In a patriarchal structure, powerful men dominate women, children and other vulnerable men.
Though they may have been inspired by the words and witness of Jean Vanier, what has truly given their movement life is the God who reaches out to them in the lives of the marginalized people they serve and the Spirit who dwells within the communities they have created among themselves. As they work through their grief, may they continue to be a source of strength and new life for one another. 

When Our Heroes Fail Us Chuck DeGroat

Each of us is complicated story of beauty and brokenness. We’re image-bearers brimming with dignity and self-deceived, shame-laden saboteurs of trust. The “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon, once proclaimed during a sermon, “Appear to be what thou art, tear off thy masks. The church was never meant to be a masquerade. Stand out in thy true colors.” Who among us doesn’t hide?

I’m reminded of the words of Ezekiel:
The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:1-4)
I never thought I’d quote this passage in a piece about a beloved mentor-from-afar like Jean Vanier, but times like this require a deadly seriousness. Writing to a community who thought of their founder as a saint, Tina Bovermann of L’Arche USA noted that the work of discovering the truth about Vanier came with a “with a mix of pain and resolve,” pain for both the victims and for those who’d likely be crushed by the revelations, and resolve “because truth matters…because the real value of every person matters.”
And, it’s an invitation to all of us to become students in this school, imperfect as it is, but aspiring toward a better humanity. L’Arche shows us, in their pain and resolve, just how we love amidst difficulty – with honesty, integrity, transparency, for the sake of the most vulnerable. That is a hopeful takeaway in a moment that feels heavy with grief.

Ms. Cushing spent a year at L’Arche two decades ago for her PhD, and discovered L’Arche kept its assistants loyal (some stayed for 40 years) by making them part of a (then-Catholic) liberation movement. Such assistants are much harder to come by in today’s secular world, and the scandal won’t help. “L’Arche is living the consequences right now,” Ms. Cushing says. “But it’s bringing them together. It is time for them to own the whole thing, and not to stay content with one person as L’Arche’s embodiment.”

The next and most brutal stage for L’Arche is to decide how big a part Mr. Vanier will play – if any – in the organization’s ongoing story. Its well-known As I Am videos, made by Mike McDonald, L’Arche’s Canadian director of communications, within the last decade, have never referenced Mr. Vanier. “It didn’t occur to us that we had to talk about Jean to talk about L’Arche,” Mr. McDonald says. Will L’Arche ban Mr. Vanier’s image from L’Arche homes, and cut his name from the origin story? “I hope not,” says Stephan Posner, the director of L’Arche International, with a sigh. “But it’s too soon to tell.”

When Saints Fail Thomas Reece

Does that mean that we must discard everything these sinners did? Do we stop honoring Abraham because he pimped his wife to Pharaoh in exchange for livestock and slaves? Do we stop praying the psalms because David had Uriah killed so he could have his wife Bathsheba? Do we burn the books of Thomas Merton because he had an affair? Do we close down L'Arche because Vanier abused his position as a spiritual father?

I can forgive Eve, the Twelve, Merton and sins of weakness, but I am not ready to forgive Abraham, David, Theodore McCarrick, Vanier, Harvey Weinstein and others who abused their power to prey on the vulnerable. I will leave their forgiveness to God.

Granted that we have been struggling to survive ever since we crawled out of the muck, evil does not surprise me. I am surprised by the problem of good. Why is there good in the world?

So how could such a saintly man do such wicked things? And if such a saintly man could do such wicked things, then what then am I capable of, who am not so saintly? What then are we all capable of, given the wrong combination of temptations and circumstance? 
That might be the most frightening question of all.

In the face of darkness: the recent news of Jean Vanier   Julian Paparella
There are two positive effects that can come from these depressing revelations. First, let our shock and sadness turn into determination and motivation to strive for the good and turn away from evil wherever we experience it in our lives and in our hearts. Let us strive to be authentic bearers of tenderness and not violence, forgiveness and not bitterness, love and not indifference. Let us continue working to be truly human by welcoming others with an open heart, living joyfully with one another, and celebrating each other.

There is part of me also that is steeped  in theology and knows these traditions as one of the primary places we have to think about the human condition.And there are no saints. We make saints. But if you look at the Bible, there are no saints on pedestals in the Bible. Sometimes there are people with great gifts who also have great, great failings. Given what we have been learning in our society, what we are uncovering in our society — which we could have uncovered a long time ago, but we’re now just looking, we’re looking at things straight on — this is a fact about human beings.


Our Identity
We are people with and without intellectual disabilities, sharing life in Communities belonging to an International Federation.
Mutual relationships and trust in God are at the heart of our journey together.
We celebrate the unique value of every person and recognize our need of one another
Our Mission
 To make known the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities revealed through mutually transforming relationships.
To foster an environment in Community that responds to the changing needs of our members, whilst being faithful to the core values of our founding story.
To engage in our diverse cultures, working together toward a more human society.
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