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Jean Vanier and Total Depravity

The news broke this morning the Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities for the disabled, was guilty of manipulative sexual abuse of at least six women over the years. The disappointment and shock is reverberating around the Catholic world because he was considered, along with Mother Teresa, to be a living saint.

At the same time the headlines rumble with indignation at the bigotry and misogyny of candidate Bloomberg, the alleged racism of Donald Trump, the sexual abuse trial of Harvey Weinstein and the echoes of the predator Jeffrey Epstein and his various cronies from Prince Andrew down to a whole crew of scurvy pirates.

You know what? It doesn’t faze me. I’m not too disappointed by such news and I’m not devastated, and I think I know why. Rightly or wrongly, I was brought up in a religious setting which was built on a foundation of underlying Calvinism, and one of the tenets of Calvinism is the doctrine of “total depravity”. This is the doctrine of original sin on steroids. We were taught not only that “there is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10-12) but also “All your righteousness is as filthy rags.” (Isa. 64:6) and some of the preachers didn’t mind telling us that the translation of “filthy rags” was “menstrual rags.”

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