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Theologian NT Wright responds to Vanier abuse news

by Cara Bentley

A report released at the end of February claimed six women were abused by a man who was referred to as a 'living saint' before he died last summer. 

Jean Vanier, a Catholic, founded L'Arche International, a charity that integrated people with and without disabilities. 

An independent inquiry was launched just before the end of his life in March 2019, after allegations were made about his behaviour with women.  

L'Arche International released the report about their founder, saying the alleged victims, who did not know each other, were "without any hatred or desire for revenge."

He was described by women who were interviewed as abusive, having used his power to take advantage through sexual behaviour and justified it with 'mystical or spiritual' reasons. 

In response to this information, a Premier listener contacted the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast to say they were "reeling" from the news, given his "profound writing", and that the report made them "sick to my stomach." 

They asked: "How should I respond when a spiritual hero is suddenly viewed so differently?"

The New Testament theologian and former bishop of Durham, NT Wright, said Vanier's justification was "warped and diseased."

Wright added: "Everybody, all leaders - not least when people are in the public eye - they have weak spots. I've often said to ordinands: whatever your particular weakness, watch out because when you're in the public eye, when you're in ministry, that will be one of the places where an attack comes and you need to be specially conscious of that. 



"Does it undermine everything he did and said? No, it casts a shadow on it. But maybe that's a way of saying that there's no human being other than Jesus himself who we should look at and say they are the absolute model."

Speaking about how Christians should respond to spiritual heroes letting them down, he explained: "St Paul would be the first to say 'Yes, I have this incredible shadow in my own personal life as I was the chief of sinners, I persecuted the church,' etc. but at least in that case, there was repentance."

Wright said there was a vast difference between someone who apologises and asks for forgiveness and the person who tries to excuse their actions. 

"Better to say 'no, this is absolutely wrong,' because we all do things which we're ashamed of and the idea that we're all aspiring to be 100% saints -  from one point of view we are but from another point of view, we're realistic. There is a reason why 'forgive us our trespasses' is in the daily prayer that we as Christians pray."

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