More information is now emerging about the manipulative sexual behaviors of John Vanier and his spiritual director Rev Thomas Philippe. The independent investigation on his actions reports:

“The relationships … are described as emotionally abusive and characterised by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,” the report stated.

One victim said Vanier told her: “This is not us, this is Mary and Jesus. You are chosen, you are special, this is secret.”

Vanier’s method of sexually grooming women he was spiritually advising and telling them that the sex was a religious action echoed what Philippe was accused of. One woman told the investigators she went to Philippe to complain about Vanier’s actions, and Philippe sexually assaulted her. “It started with him, the same as with Jean Vanier,” the woman said. “He was not tender like Jean Vanier. More brutal, no intercourse, same words to say that I am special and that all this is about Jesus and Mary.”

My friend Kevin O’Brien wrote a perceptive email about this sort of behavior on Sunday. Kevin was critical of some of Christopher West’s Theology of the Body teachings because there was a mystical aspect to sex integrated into the teaching–that somehow the sexual act could

“bring about esoteric enlightenment, and claiming that a man could indulge in behaviors others would consider sinful, once he was spiritually mature. That’s the game, you see.  Philippe and Vanier would claim,”that when one arrives at perfect love, everything is lawful, for there is no more sin.”  (That quote is from the L’Arche report.)  And so it’s OK to have sex and pretend to be uniting with God Himself in the process – because you’ve arrived at “perfect love”, see?”

I had an experience as a young Anglican priest which was similar to this goofy and abusive teaching. I was going through a crisis and I had a spiritual director-counselor who was an Anglican priest. We’ll call him Fr Andrew. Fr Andrew had definite psychic gifts of healing and second sight. He was also very charismatic, charming and attractive. He was also a homosexual. In the counseling sessions he would explain how my problems were due to an inability to love and be loved. Eventually he told me how he loved me and therefore made me feel guilty because I didn’t really love him…because my problem (as he’d already told me) was that I was unable to accept love from another person. It ended up that I was assisting him in conducting a parish mission and we were sharing a room in a convent when he invited me into his bed so that “I could accept God’s love through him.”

Happily I had enough common sense to say, “Andrew, I might be messed up and I definitely need help, but I don’t think the answer is for me to have gay sex with another priest in a convent.”

Coincidently (or not) in the same parish where I was working there was a coven of witches led by a guy called Alex Sanders  who claimed to be the “King of the Witches” and the successor of the famous British occultist Aleister Crowley 

It was well known that Sanders would seduce women with the promise of hocus pocus sex magic and that witchcraft rituals are almost always linked in with nudity, sexual perversion and sex magic in one way or another.

Kevin O’Brien is quite right to see the link between creepy Christian ministers who teach some sort of tantric Christianity in which the sex act opens the doorway to a high plane of righteousness and perfection.

What a lot of baloney–and dangerous baloney.

Kevin acknowledges that there is a “spirituality of sex”. There must be because sex is part of our human nature and our whole body, mind and spirit are woven together as a little Trinity. But Kevin says the spirituality of sex does not manifest itself in some weird mystical union type of experience. Instead it “manifests itself in a very non-sexy incarnational way.”

O’Brien is a great disciple of G.K.Chesterton and quotes the apostle of common sense on this matter:

 Sex is an instinct that produces an institution; and it is positive and not negative, noble and not base, creative and not destructive, because it produces this institution. That institution is the family; a small state or commonwealth which has hundreds of aspects, when it is once started, that are not sexual at all. It includes worship, justice, festivity, decoration, instruction, comradeship, repose. Sex is the gate of that house; and romantic and imaginative people naturally like looking through a gateway. But the house is very much larger than the gate.

Kevin continues on his pleasantly poignant rant:

Sex – when it’s not fornication, contraceptive, adulterous or self-indulgent – leads to “a house that is very much larger than the gate”, a house with many mansions, and many loud messy brats running around and breaking things in that house with many mansions!  It leads to everything and everyone around us, in fact.
The more I reflect on life, the more I realize the Wisdom of the Cross.  Love and the Cross are inseparable – which is to say everything comes with a price.  The price of our sexual desires (for those called to marriage) is Matrimony and Babies (smelly, messy babies), and the renunciation of all abuses of the gift of Eros.  That’s the true spirituality of sex: it is bounded and constrained and it makes new life, which new life itself exacts a price.
I would add that this incarnational reality is also true Christian mysticism. One of my favorite poems is Revival by the metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan. He sums up (in true metaphysical style) the reality of an incarnational mysticism.
UNFOLD ! unfold !  Take in His light,
Who makes thy cares more short than night.
The joys which with His day-star rise
He deals to all but drowsy eyes ;
And, what the men of this world miss
Some drops and dews of future bliss.
Hark ! how His winds have chang’d their note !
And with warm whispers call thee out ;
The frosts are past, the storms are gone,
And backward life at last comes on.
The lofty groves in express joys
Reply unto the turtle’s voice ;
And here in dust and dirt, O here
The lilies of His love appear !

This is the reality of the sacrament of marriage. That a true transcendent love springs up within the “dust and dirt” of ordinary commitment of everyday life with the abundance of children and a life long commitment to one another. This is why the church says marriage is a sacrament–not that sex is a sacrament. And this is why marriage has to be between one woman and one man for life–because it takes that long to really experience what true love is all about…and even then it is a great risk because so many marriages never achieve that sublime goal.

The sex magicians–whether they are Christian priests of witches and warlocks–want to grab at a mystical transcendence and a cosmic experience of bliss in a quick and selfish moment. “Take the apple now!” the old serpent will always say.

They wish for a transcendent experience through the sexual act–without marriage, without children and without true love. This is the dynamic of addiction and the downward spiral…take the prize without paying the price.

In fact this transcendence does take place, but it happens gradually through a lifelong commitment in love–a lifelong commitment to self giving–a lifelong commitment to the other person. Then, and only then can the true joy of sex–the true transcendence of love lead us to that greater love and merges us with the Divine Love–the Love that Dante says “moves the sun and all the other stars”