Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
As a mom, a mom of a child with special needs, and a former special educator, I read “A Blessed Weakness,” and heard about the L’Arche communities. Every time I heard of them, my heart leapt. “Yes, this is what we need. Yes, this is what we should be doing.” I prayed one day that my son might find himself a home there. (He’s 11 years old, so not any time soon.)
Reading about Jean Vanier’s misconduct, and the tremors it sent through many people I know and love across the country who also have children with special needs or work with those with different intellectual and or physical capacities, I sat and pondered: What does this mean for the “L’Arche,” if the founder abused the trust women had in him as they served these little ones? One person wrote that the only healing to a tragedy like this is prayer, and he’s right.
It is no small thing that the two founders most closely associated with “L’Arche” have been implicated in having sexual relationships with women, where they used a combination of “so-called mystical and spiritual justifications for this conduct.” It threatens the good formed under their leadership, and the future of these communities designed to provide fellowship and family to some of the meekest of the earth.
The report reveals in part why God calls us all to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. To me, it revealed something of what Purgatory must be, where we see all the wounds created by our own sins, all the good we prevented from being done by our own failures to live freedom well. We aren’t called to be perfect because God wouldn’t love us otherwise, but because to the extent we are not perfect in our love, we block others from being able to see as much of God’s love as they otherwise would through us. It’s hard to read, because it reveals the systemic, long-term sin that plagued this man, and thus others.
I’m reminded of Dicken’s line from A Christmas Carol: “It is a ponderous chain.”
By now, we ought to know from our own experience that we are all both made in God’s image, and capable of grave sin and error, that we are both a means of God’s love to others, and the reason Christ died on the cross and shed his blood for our salvation. We cause the splinters, the nails, the scourges, the thorns — all of it. Every word, every act, every moment of Christ’s passion, we’ve caused by our lives and by our response to God at various points in our lives.
But the good things God willed be done, as manifested in L’Arche International, and the communities of people formed as a result, reminds all of us that we are created in God’s image, and that God wants us to become saints. The good lives on, and can continue to live on if we recognize that God uses all of us, imperfect and broken as we are, to reveal how we are to love and why. So pray for Jean Vanier, for his associate Fr. Thomas Philippe, and for all the women over the decades whom they took advantage of, because the wounds go beyond what can be known even after a report and investigation.
But just as the injuries still have echoes, so also does God’s grace stand as the reason for our hope, and the cause of healing to the world.