For many years, Jean Vanier has influenced my personal and professional journey. I have taught and written about inclusion, the dignity of the human person and peace leadership in reference to Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Because of his great impact on my life, I am profoundly disturbed by the news that he was a perpetrator of sexual abuse. It contradicts everything I had believed about Jean Vanier the philosopher and humanitarian. The news makes me grapple with the incompatibility of Vanier as a man of God and a criminal. Feelings of sadness and betrayal are mixed with questioning about my (or anyone’s) ability to truly judge character and, by extension, discern authentic goodness. I strongly condemn the sexual victimization in which he engaged and am gravely aware of the serious impact it has had on the women involved. While I am unable to peacefully reconcile the disparity between what Vanier accomplished in L’Arche and his sexual misconduct that caused such suffering, I take several lessons from this situation:
- I will be more prudent about esteeming anyone to the point of idealizing them or their contributions.
- Good people can have distorted consciences and rationalize doing bad things.
- Power can corrupt so policies and procedures, checks and balances to power are absolutely necessary in organizations.
- The institution and the founder are distinct and I will continue to support the wonderful work of L’Arche and pray for its unity in the face of their founder’s disgrace.
- Vanier’s actions will make it uncomfortable for me to refer to him in my teaching and research. While my faith in Vanier is shaken, my faith in God is not. I take heart in St. Paul’s words: ‘Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:39