Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2020 / 04:35 pm (CNA).- On the news that Jean Vanier, Catholic founder of L’Arche International, has been credibly accused of serially sexually abusing women, Professor Stanley Hauerwas said he is “devastated.”
“That is the way anyone must feel on hearing the news of Jean Vanier’s sexual misconduct,” Hauerwas said in comments to CNA. “Vanier was supposed to be different and in many ways he was. But the difference makes his behavior all the more devastating. He should have known better,” he added.
Hauerwas, a world renowned theologian with joint appointments at Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School, was a personal friend of Vanier, who died at the age of 90 on May 7, 2019.
Vanier was the once-revered founder of L’Arche, an international community of people with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.
Last April, L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse to investigate allegations related to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”
On Feb. 22, 2020, L’Arche International published the results of the investigation, detailing “credible and consistent” accounts of sexual misconduct by Vanier against six adult women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.
Hauerwas said he considered Vanier a friend and mentor, and is “heartbroken by this revelation of his terrible misconduct and utterly condemn it as an abuse of power.”
Hauerwas noted that Vanier seems to have convinced himself the abuse was consensual, which he said was “some desperate attempt to justify his actions. Which is but a reminder that self-deception often is the result of trying to make sense of our lives and why we all need accountability, especially those held in high esteem.”
“One suspects his gentleness allowed him to get away with anything but his actions involving the women were anything but gentle,” he said.
Still, Hauerwas said he is “indebted” to Vanier for what he taught him about how to love and care for disabled people, and he hopes that the good of L’Arche’s work will not be lost along with the revelations of abuse.
“So much of (Vanier’s) life was morally exemplary. That is one of the problems. How can we continue to learn from his witness with his intellectually disabled friends without excusing his predatory sexual behavior? At this time when we are trying to receive this devastating news the only advice I have is not to be in a hurry to answer that question,” he said.
Rather than rush to decisions, Hauerwas urged those effected by the report to pray.
“We must pray first for the women he betrayed,” he said. “We must pray for the members of the L’Arche movement. We must pray for ourselves that God will help us to carry on the work of L’Arche because that work is, in and of itself, independent of the actions of its founder.”
He added that the international L'Arche community “are proving to be quite extraordinary in terms of how they're responding and how they have responded.”
L’Arche International has set up an additional centralized reporting procedure for any further information that people may wish to report. Any such information will be received by a task force composed of people outside of L’Arche.
“I continue to believe that in those homes the glory of God is manifest for all to see.”
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