The feminine genius



My eyes unexpectedly became a waterfall at a Saturday morning “feminine genius” breakfast. The night before, I had read on Twitter about the investigation that yielded credible testimonies that Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche movement of homes for men and women with developmental disabilities, had abused women under the guise of spiritual direction, using some kind of mystic cover for his predation.

Shock, horror, devastation — these all would describe some of my reactions to the news. I wondered what more we would learn, and I thought about those women who had to put up with the world being convinced that Vanier was a living saint! I was ashamed of myself. I had written about him, quoted him, even made the case that he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

And I was furious, too. Some years ago now, I went to the Cenacle of Our Lady of Divine Providence School of Spiritual Direction, associated with Franciscan University of Steubenville, and so I have some regular conversations with people about their prayer and how it plays out in their everyday lives. As Father Timothy Gallagher puts it in his many books and talks about spiritual direction, this is “sacred ground.” At first, I confess, I wasn’t sure people who aren’t priests should be directors, but priests are so often stretched beyond human capacity as is, and sometimes, too, don’t have much training in St. Ignatius’ rules for discernment and other tools that can be extremely helpful. So for a layman to break this needed sacred trust made me livid in a whole new way.

But about the tears. My heart aches for those he abused and who are living in L’Arche. They are the most impacted by this, and I know I’m not alone in praying for them. But I also keep thinking about the trauma people are experiencing in the Church. There are survivors of abuse who have a remarkable love for the Church despite what has happened to them. But there is also the fact that it is a kind of trauma to be bombarded with such knowledge of evil over and over again now. And it will just get worse. Yes, we’re facing a lot of stories about things that already happened, about the way people operated in the past. But you and I both know evil isn’t a thing of the past. And despite all our best efforts and good policies, we are still fallen people. Satan still works overtime.

At that feminine genius breakfast, my friend, Sister Virginia Joy, was true to her name. She had people encountering true joy, even in a hotel banquet room (the sisters do not have a facility for fitting over 400 women — this being only one of many regional gatherings of a similar nature). The tears began when she started reading part of the message from St. Pope Paul VI at the closing of the Second Vatican Council: “The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of woman is being achieved in its fullness, the hour in which woman acquires in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid mankind in not falling.”

Pope Benedict XVI handed me that same exact message in 2012. Because it wasn’t fully communicated and received the first time. And now in 2020, I sat wondering what I have been doing since 2012. What have we all been doing since the closing of the council? Women impregnated with the Gospel isn’t about more women in power; it’s about an infusion of love. That’s where the real power is — being radical in this, being focused on Christ.

We are going to go through many emotions in the midst of scandal in the Church. Stay with him in it. The cross is the measure of love, and nothing can destroy us if we know and live his love.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.

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