We already reported Fr. François Houtart's confession to an act of pedophilia he committed many years ago. This week, the news agencies are reporting that the attorney general in Lieja, Cedric Visart de Bocarme, has opened an investigation into Houtart. While most of Houtart's colleagues are publicly silent and hoping this shameful incident will be forgotten and go away, noted Brazilian feminist theologian Ivone Gebara offers her more honest and compassionate perspective.
by Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Many newspapers in the north and south, not to mention the international media, between December 29 and 30, 2010, and lots of news sent electronically, at the beginning of the new year, brought the news that the renowned Belgian sociologist and theologian Francois Houtart (85) had sexually molested an 8 year-old boy. They don't say what year this happened, nor do they give clear information about the incident. They only mention that the child was the son of one of Houtart's cousins and that it was his own sister who had denounced the incident, before Houtart's candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I don't want to discuss pedophilia or other sex crimes right now. Rather, what called my attention was that many of Houtart's acquaintances and friends in Brazil were frightened by this revelation and even the Folha de São Paulo (12/30/2010) stated that the priest and liberation theologian had even been expelled from the Belgian organization he helped found, CETRI - the Centre Tricontinental.
I'm not defending beloved Professor François Houtart, a learned man whose positions in favor of the dignity of different groups and countries I know well. But our often hypocritical fear and our ignorance about the human condition, especially when it comes to any religious or internationally recognized person, scare me.
I remember some years ago, when Rabbi Henry Sobel, under the influence of medications, stole neckties in a U.S. airport, the press and many people crucified him, as if on that act, that unthinking, unwise, unexpected and certainly reprehensible act, one could judge his whole history. In the face of the theft, it seemed that the history of that man's struggle for the dignity of many, especially during the time of the Brazilian military dictatorship, disappeared. We are always willing to crucify any slip in the history of those whom we raise up as "perfect", those who we decree can not be wrong, those who we imagine are above the common life. And, perhaps for this reason, we want to award them with the Nobel for so many things and condemn them when we find something that stains the perfect image that we ourselves built.
Thus, we living beings slip, we fall, we push, we are pushed. We living human beings are tempted to possess the goods of others, to desire bodies and even children's bodies. And, sometimes dominated by our weakness, we give in to the immediate will of our bodies. Basically, we are not pure or perfect. We are all not only fallible, but, in practice, sinners. We are all capable of taking life or diminishing lives in some way.
Just losing equilibrium for a moment... Just getting away from the usual sobriety ... Just not managing to control hormones ... Just anger being greater than we can bear ... Just being drunk with the seduction of desire ... In an instant, everything changes!
So, let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.
But we are also able to lift the fallen along the roads of life, to think of viable alternatives for the world of the poor, to think in International Social Forums to find solutions towards a better life for all ... We are this mixture of grandeur and misery!
I'm not making an apology for our limits, nor excuses for our many faults and sins against each other. I'm just warning us against the hypocrisy that can control us, as if we were free from sin. We may be free of the specific sin of my brother or that other one of my sister. But mine, of that one I am not free. My sin, confessed or not, discovered or still hidden, continues to be in me. And by trying to forget or hide it, I may run the risk of not seeing "the beam in my eye, and only the mote in the neighbor's eye."
Our hypocrisy reaches a point where with one major or minor failing, we reduce the life of an 85 year-old person, who has provided countless services to humanity and who may have already suffered enough for the sin that he himself has already admitted. So what more do we want?
Although impressed by our hypocrisy and ignorance, our ability to throw stones and not live in forgiveness and mercy especially towards those who have borne witness with their lives, those who, despite stumbling and falling, were capable of "much love", I keep hoping for our conversion.