Charles C. Camosy on Jean Vanier and the Corrupting Power of Sexual Sin

Jean Vanier. Photo courtesy of Templeton Prize, John Morrison

Charlie Camosy has spent more than the last decade as a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University. He is the author of five books, including, most recently, “Resisting Throwaway Culture.” The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

(RNS) — Jean Vanier did not make a life focused on his own power. Quite the opposite, in fact. He made a life focused on the power of those with intellectual disabilities. A power that could change those of us who are “normal” into better examples of Christ’s love.

Vanier’s New York Times obituary last year referred to him as a “savior to people on the margins,” but that actually gets his views deeply wrong, if not completely backward. The governing philosophy of the organization he founded, L’Arche, was that able-bodied people who assisted those with intellectual disabilities should consider themselves the students of those they were serving. It was a mutual relationship, no doubt, but the power Vanier and L’Arche focused on was the power of the marginalized to change those who met them in a powerful moment of encounter.

It is hard to imagine a better antidote to the poison of our use and throwaway culture. As a result of his work, many people who knew and encountered him considered Jean Vanier a living saint.

The recent revelations that from 1970 to 2005 Vanier had manipulated and sexually abused at least six women in the context of “spiritual accompaniment” are as shocking as they are devastating.

Our first instinct must be to think about the six brave and powerful women who came forward to share their stories. Thank God they were able to air their pain and suffering this man caused them over decades.

But there are other victims to think about as well. Soon after the news broke, Catholic News Agency’s J.D. Flynn tweeted that it was particularly painful for his family, not least because one of his children is named for Jean Vanier. The Rev. James Martin described the news as a “grave disappointment.” Colleen Dulle wrote  that she, like so many, could not even really process this news.

If Jean Vanier is not good — indeed, far from it — who can be good?

Here it is important to remind ourselves of Jesus’ humbling claim that “no one is good but God alone.” We are fallen, broken, depraved creatures in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. We must let that disturbing reality sink in. Profound sin lurks even within the best of us. Sometimes, as in this case, even horrible sin lurks within the best of us.

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Source: Religion News Service