A Case of Tarnished Haloes

there is no greater trauma

In Canada, people are reeling from the news that one of her most loved and respected citizens has also been guilty of sexual abuse. Jean Vanier was the founder of L’Arche International, the son of a highly esteemed governor general, and honoured with the highest awards in this land.

And nobody is doubting he did tremendous good. He invested his time in enhancing the lives of people who were born with serious disabilities. He provided a safe place where these people could feel loved. A home where they belonged, and experienced dignity.

But today the accolades are being hastily replaced by disbelieving comments like the following:

It’s so shocking when a person you believed in does these things. I never would have thought it. There were no apparent signs. It shakes your understanding of what people are like.”

This behaviour is so awful.  I can’t start to imagine how much these women suffered, and what they have gone through – especially when everyone was praising Vanier.”

This is a particularly hard as it’s betrayal by a friend.”

News like this calls into question the way you see the world. You don’t know who to trust. You don’t know who you can believe.”

Of course, we’re talking of abuse here, not betrayal by a spouse. Even so, there are some parallels that aren’t lost on us. For instance, both situations raise some painful questions like:

1. How do reconcile these very different sides … that someone who does great things also leads a double life?

2. Are all failings equal, or are some things worse than others?

3. Is it ever right to cover up a person’s shameful acts, simply because they are sexual in nature? Why is there pressure to keep these things a secret?

4. How can we determine who is trustworthy and safe, when betrayers are such experts at deceiving us?

I don’t have any answers – just some personal thoughts and views. But I’d really love to hear what any readers have to say.

38 thoughts on “A Case of Tarnished Haloes

  1. Hi ! I love the quote under the beautiful picture you posted.
    Extreme trauma changes us in several ways. We become much more empathetic to other people who have also been hurt.
    With God’s help, we become more discerning. We truly ‘expect the unexpected.’
    We feel sympathy for the abuser in that it must cause them lots of conflict to live such double lives.
    Our relationship with the Lord grows closer, if we cling to Him. He whispers to us in our spirits, reminding us that he was betrayed too, and he heals our broken hearts, usually gradually.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Sally! I really love your positive slant here. It’s true. If we process extreme trauma properly it develops a deep empathy in us for others who are suffering too. I see that all the time in the Word Press community. The support and sharing is beautiful to observe, and experience. I feel very blessed to read some of the caring responses I see on peoples’ blogs. And, yes, abusers must be very conflicted. They cannot have true peace of mind. That’s an important point.
      And for those who have faith, there can be comfort and strength, and a feeling of not carrying this alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “1. How do reconcile these very different sides … that someone who does great things also leads a double life?”

    I think there’s a big issue here— with putting too much trust into somebody that you don’t personally know. These people are not widely-known and regarded necessarily because those around them view them in that way— there need only be enough outside people viewing them in that way, for that to be their perceived image. With in-person interaction, across different scenarios, you have a ton more potential cues to pick up on about somebody’s personality and whether they are hiding things. Loss of trust in celebrities doesn’t necessarily need to reduce trust in those genuinely closer to us.

    “2. Are all failings equal, or are some things worse than others?”

    There’s an element of subjectivity, but there will be a lot of overlap between people if you asked them to compare things. You can never prove any of it by logic, necessarily, because it’s impossible to measure things like emotional harm. Is it a useful question, outside of courts?

    The answer also depends on who is the ‘victim’ of the ‘failing’ that you’re talking about— abusing/assaulting 100 people is objectively worse than 10, in terms of the impact on society. But in terms of morality they are equal, because the effect on each individual victim is just as severe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think that’s definitely true when it comes to “assessing” celebrities. The challenge comes when we think we have an accurate picture of someone we know well and we were deceived.
      That’s a great second point that it’s impossible to measure things like emotional harm. Also, it’s the effect on the victim that ultimately determines how “bad” or damaging something is. Thanks for your input, Robin.


  3. We often find it impossible to believe that a person can be two seemingly opposite things at the same time. By many accounts, Harvey Weinstein was a doting, loving father to his young children. He was also a rapist. Both can be true. The people who saw him as a good dad just never saw the rapist side and vice versa. The experience of people who interacted with him was real to them in the moment, but they only had a partial view.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I appreciate your discussion. A well-respected weather forecaster with a local television station feel disgracefully from the pinnacle of this profession when accused with sexual-related crimes. It was so shocking!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi bigskybuckeye … I wonder if he would have experienced the same fate if it had been a different crime. I suspect so. I think we want people to match up to the image they present. And I think, maybe, there’s also something about taking advantage of others/ harming others/ or undermining the dignity of a person, that doesn’t sit well with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post reminds me of the period of time when I attended SLAA meetings. I wanted to better understand my partner and I was a good little enabler and thought I could buy him the Basic Text for the Augustine Fellowship (Purple and white Book)

    After a few meetings I began questioning codependency vs. love addiction in myself. This was way before I knew anything about Developmental Trauma Disorder or it’s sequelae. Anyhoo, I digress.

    In the basement of the church there was 2 fellows who admitted they were sex addicts but then went on to say they had molested children and grands children . I was shocked at first. It had not occurred to me they may come there for help to not reoffend. They never spoke of any details as proscribed by the rules of the group. I was still uncomfortable by knowing about their disclosure.

    I had questioned in that moment those same thoughts on whether all failings were equal.

    1. How can a person do great things and also lead a double life? They compartmentalize. They place their brokenness/depravity/ wrong choices or whatever semantics you so choose into a small condensed box. 95% of their life is lived far away from this box.

    2. Are all failings equal or are some worse than others? Perhaps some are worse than others. Perhaps.

    3. Is it ever right to cover up a persons shameful acts simply because they are sexual in nature? My instinct says no. Why do people try and cover up shameful acts of a sexual nature? For the obvious reason that the bane of society is still living in a very puritanical mindset. They are libel to tar and feather someone and put them on the town green for a Ye olde public shaming. We aren’t that far away from all that, sadly.

    4. Who is safe? I can never longer tell now. Time, caution, and mostly my gut feeling are leading the way to discernment on this.

    Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for sharing such a detailed response, and for sharing from your personal experience. Very interesting. You highlight something very important here. Compartmentalization. I think your description is accurate and explains a lot: “you choose into a small condensed box. 95% of their life is lived far away from this box.” Also, I agree that shaming makes things so much worse, and prevents people getting free, and moving on. On your final point, revelations like these make it hard for us to be sure who is safe as who isn’t. They show us our gut feelings can be wrong – so maybe caution and continual reassessment is the best policy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Some clarification on my final point. For me, because my sense of trust in people has been shattered; I use time, caution, and my gut feeling about a particular person to discern if they are safe. That has become my method.

        It has been my own experience, that when I ignored my initial bad gut feeling about someone I would later get betrayed by them. I thought because there was a lack of “evidence” that intuition was flim flam and could not be trusted. I know better now.

        Unfortunately, this method only works for close intimate relationships/friendships. Figures like Jean Vanier, I would not ever have been able to discern.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. People can be like that, we’re not only ‘good’ or only ‘bad’. We can change in the one or the other direction. I guess people are shocked because it frightens them ‘if I can so wrong about this, what more am I wrong about?’
    I like your question about keeping things silent just because they are of a sexual nature. I don’t think that needs to be the case but for the victims it can’t be easy to read or hear all the details of what has happened. Possibly it can feel like they are exposed again. Some form of privacy or control of your narrative can provide safety. Because of that I believe that reporting on such cases needs to happen with a form of caution.
    Another question would be that when reporting, should we ‘protect’ the offender too or has he/she lost all of their privacy because they were so wrong in their actions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for such a detailed response. Yes, human beings are complex. No-one is all good or all bad. As you say, we are a mix of both (and sometimes really good and really bad) and what comes to the forefront or dominates often changes. I also think we need a degree of predictability to live out our lives. We need to know who is safe and who isn’t, and when we make a judgment and are proven wrong, then that is very scary! Great final question … and one I would leave open for debate 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Sexual addiction is a disease. Not cured by a medication. It has been instilled into the minds of men and women since the sexual revolution. With the technology of today, or children and grandchildren are placed into a situation that this in the norm. We need to raise up our families will morals. We need to stand up and seek the help needed to cure this addiction. If the world would seek the cure for this sickness with the passion that they seek for a cure for the Coronavirus,,,,. They say that the Coronavirus has killed x amount of people…. how many lives have been destroyed by sexual addiction? Please pray that God can put people in my path. That I can use the tools that I have been provided with. To guild young men on a path of morality over sexuality. And those that have been effected, that their hearts and minds can be transformed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting Stephen. A sexual addiction changes the brain and really gets a grip in our lives. I suspect many public figures associated with sexual abuse actually have an undiagnosed sexual addiction. I think society’s attitudes towards sex and sex addiction often make it hard for people to seek help – and yet it’s hard to get free without external help.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Debatable subject and also personal. As i write Im reluctant as to how much I should share or not.
    I don’t know what the right answers are. I avoid having dogmatic and extreme opinions on these things, its not healthy for me. I keep to my recovery and stay out of other peoples recovery. There are some sick people out there that are sadly beyond help or redemption. There is hope for transformation & redemption though for those who want it. thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Re: Are all failings equal, or are some things worse than others?

    I believe some “failings” are worse. Abuse / sex abuse toward innocents, such as children or disabled people. (e.g. Priests in a position of power abusing children.) Child-trafficking for profit from prostitution / porn – it can ruin that child’s mental health for life. Rape of a disabled person in a group home. Conscious choice and planning of a sexual predator – who may be a sex addict – to stalk and rape/kill.

    There is a doctor (pediatrician) in a SA group who participated in child (patient) sexual abuse and child porn. Maybe it sounds like I am judging, or maybe this doc chose that field to gain access to children, just like some Boy Scout leaders or coaches for children’s sports teams choose to volunteer to gain access to their prey – the innocent children.

    Just my humble opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think, at some level, we all feel that way beleeme. Maybe it has to do with the effect it has on the victim. I don’t think it means the person is worse in themselves (or however you want to describe him or her) – but the actions and their consequences are. Thanks for the comment 🙂


  10. No, it is never ok to cover up shameful acts that have damaged someone. We particularly need to be more open about shameful sexual acts, otherwise the so-called taboo on talking about something that “isn’t nice” will never change. It must be talked about.

    Liked by 2 people

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