The Americas' director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries has issued a personal apology for his role in perpetuating the lies of his former boss, Ravi Zacharias, who was found to have spent years committing sexual and spiritual abuse against a number of women.
Vince Vitale, who is also the director of the UK-based Zacharias Trust, said he was "grieved beyond measure for every one of the victims who has been abused in such appalling and reprehensible ways", noting that his trust in Zacharias was "severely misplaced".
In a video alongside his wife, Jo Vitale - who is a speaker for RZIM and dean of studies at the Zacharias Institute - Vince said that by believing Ravi's lies, the pair had compounded the excruciating hurt and trauma felt by their boss's victims.
"Ravi abused people in horrific ways and then repeatedly and brazenly lied to our faces," Vitale said. "On the heels of these truths came the sickening realization that by believing Ravi’s lies and then passing on his false narratives, we in turn deeply hurt people—the very people most in need of our care—and we added to their pain. We are sorry. We are so very, very sorry."
He added: "Two of the primary concerns that motivated us to become apologists were for Vince a desire to speak hope to the sufferer, and for Jo a desire to share with women that God sees them as valuable and of sacred worth. It fills us with intense sorrow to know that we have failed in the precise areas that God had asked us to prioritize, and in doing so failed the very people that God asked us to love well."
Vince has a PhD from Oxford on the topic of evil and suffering. He also co-wrote a book on the subject with Ravi Zacharias, titled 'Why Suffering?: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn't Make Sense'. Jo holds a PhD from Oxford in Old Testament studies, focusing on the topic of “women and beauty in the Old Testament".
In the video, the Vitales' also personally apologised to one of Ravi Zacharias' victims, Lori Anne Thompson, who was relentlessly slandered by the ministry organisation after accusing the apologist of grooming and solicitation.
"In 2017, Lori Anne Thompson came forward with allegations about how she had suffered grievously because of Ravi, and we did not listen," Vince admitted. "We failed to respect her by not giving her the serious attention that she deserved. We also failed to listen to those who faithfully stood with her and spoke up for her. Shamefully, we were slow to listen and quick to speak, the opposite of what God asks of us."
Jo added: I [Jo] feel particularly convicted that although I’m someone who speaks regularly about the God who sees women, when a woman was abused by someone in my own sphere, I completely and utterly failed to see her. Not only should I have listened, but given the serious nature of the claims, I should have recognized my own personal bias and weighted the victim’s words more heavily. As a woman with a public voice, I failed to use that voice to speak up for another when her voice was not being heard. For this, I am so ashamed, and so devastatingly sorry."
On Twitter, Lori Anne Thompson replied to Vince's video, acknowledging that the couple had "apologized in a complete and comprehensive manner".
"I am grateful for the journey you are on and I will do all I can to be of service," she wrote. "So often we pray for truth, light and sight but when it shows up — it can be devastating."
The couple added that they were "far too quick to accept Ravi’s explanations for emails now made public rather than challenging things that didn’t seem right".
"When Ravi’s responses to our pointed questions seemed defensive, we found excuses. We put it down to a generational difference, or a cultural difference, or the embarrassment he must have been feeling at being accused of such things," Vince said. "We failed to look at the situation soberly and see that Ravi’s defensiveness was a sign of his guilt.
"We thought we were loving our friend by trusting his word, but in reality we were failing to love victims by not demanding that their testimony be treated with utter seriousness and properly addressed. We thought we were loving a friend well, but we were failing to love our neighbors well. And actually, we were also not loving Ravi well because friends challenge you to live in the truth, and we made it too easy for Ravi to live a lie."
The couple admitted that they had "perpetuated [Ravi's] false narratives to those who came to us with questions and concerns".
"We defended Ravi and quelled people’s concerns on numerous occasions, in a sense asking people to trust our testimony based on our experience of Ravi while simultaneously not taking seriously other people’s testimony based on their harmful experience of him," Vince said. "I [Vince] am particularly blameworthy for this because I did this not only within RZIM but also externally to ministry partners and others when they asked questions.
"In doing this, we were among those who not only lengthened but also intensified the pain of Lori Anne and Brad Thompson, as they were then slandered for years. The suffering they and their family have experienced over the last four years has been horrendous. It must also have been wrenching for survivors to watch as Ravi continued to be praised while Lori Anne was maligned.
"That we contributed to this makes us heartsick. We made up our minds about people and spoke badly about them without ever having really tried to listen to them. That is not treating others as you would wish to be treated. That is the opposite of how anyone should be treated. Every day we feel profound regret and shame about this. We believe Lori Anne and Brad Thompson, and we are so profoundly sorry."
The couple also expressed regret at publicly honouring Zacharias, considering his grave misdeeds:
"We feel a very heavy burden for the ways in which our public honoring of Ravi—and our honoring of his character of all things—will not only have caused further pain to victims, but will have made it even harder for them to share their stories out of fear that no one would believe them. To those of you who were wounded by our words, we are deeply sorry for the hurt that we have caused you."
The pair said that their priority moving forward is to "support the process of victims receiving justice and being cared for".
"We also commit to listening to and learning from the voices of survivors," they added. "Lori Anne Thompson’s victim impact statement is a deeply moving place to start for anyone else who feels they have not listened as God asks us to. We commit to having the courage to challenge situations whenever we witness people being spoken to or about unlovingly and dishonorably."
Many others replied to Vince and Jo's statement, with Zacharias Trust colleague Amy Orr-Ewing tweeting: "Thank you for doing this."
"Deeply love and respect you both so very much," added former RZIM speaker, Sam Allberry.
Questions remain over the future of RZIM following the scandal. More recently, the official ministry website has been scrubbed of nearly all content. Ravi Zacharias's Twitter account has also been deleted, along with that belonging to the Zacharias Trust and its subsidiary, OCCA The Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. This follows the disbandment of RZIM Canada and the Zacharias Trust's decision to sever all ties with RZIM US and embark on a process of changing its name.
RZIM US, which is headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia, has yet to announce its intentions for the future.