Javier Garrido. In God’s name?

A few days ago, the final judgment handed down by the Rota (ecclesiastical court) was made public; it harshly condemned the Navarrese Franciscan Javier Garrido, a master and spiritual companion of great authority, author of numerous books on spirituality and Christianity, and one of the most recognised figures in the Franciscan Order, for “abuses of power and sexual abuse” (“assault”, the court should have said) against two nuns.

I am thinking firstly about the two nuns who were sexually assaulted in the context of spiritual accompaniment. Their ordeal has been long and excruciating. They were subjugated, humiliated in their freedom, their dignity, their bodies. For years. And this from their teacher, their father, their spiritual director, the one in whom they had placed their unquestioning trust, the one who possessed and exercised absolute authority over them. Many years ago they made this known to all those who needed to know. And they knew it, but no one took them into real consideration. They were pressured inside and outside to keep silent and protect their attacker. No one believed them. After all, they were just “weak nuns”. They were dismissed with “spiritual” arguments that concealed deep-rooted prejudices and inhuman interests. Today, I congratulate them for their human lucidity, their inner strength, the spiritual determination that led them to file their complaint and to endure these very hard years of a judicial process hampered to a maximum. That is freedom, sisters. Jesus blesses you.

I am also thinking of the third victim who only a few months ago also filed a complaint. She still has a long way to go. Have courage, sister, to the end. Let yourself be comforted and carried along by the Spirit that dwells in you. And I am thinking about so many others, not only nuns, who have suffered the same assaults and who, for various and powerful reasons, have chosen to remain silent, at least until today. Pursue your path without betraying yourselves or feeling embarrassed.

I am thinking about Javier Garrido, himself. It must be very hard for him, too. I am reminded of Jesus’ words of profound humanity, which we find in all the great sapiential, philosophical and religious traditions: “Treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Gospel according to Luke 6:31). How you would want or need to be treated if you were in their shoes. I want to put myself in Javier’s shoes, not to justify him, of course, but not to condemn him either, but to wish for his liberation and deep healing, and, by condemning his behaviour, to save him. And the recognition of the harm and the factors that led him to inflict it is an indispensable step, the first. I am relieved that the truth of the facts has been publicly and judicially acknowledged, albeit belatedly and in an ecclesiastical court. It was a necessary condition for the healing of the victims in their torment. It was also a necessary condition for the liberation of Javier Garrido, trapped in the web of his own psychology, of the religious institution and of the constructed theological system. No one does harm consciously and voluntarily, but out of a lack of deep awareness and true will, out of a lack of freedom. We need to be liberated from ourselves. And the judicial truth, given that it is unavoidable, is not enough. We need that other integral human truth that allows us to recognise the damage caused and the ideological constructs we use to justify ourselves. Light sets us free.

I venture to say that the decisive factor that explains, but in no way justifies, Garrido’s behaviour is his idea of god, his theological construct. A god whose eternal death was confirmed by the lucid “madman” in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. An omniscient, omnipotent, arbitrary god. A god the father, not the mother. A “somebody” god, a subject distinct from the cosmos and from the human being. A god who chooses a people (Israel) or a person to be exclusively his own (being celibate, for example). A god who reveals or hides himself to whomever he wishes. A god who can impose the worst misfortune on a poor human as a punishment or as a pedagogical test. A god who can even push someone to “commit a mortal sin” so that he/she will confess his/her guilt and recognise his/her need for mercy and divine forgiveness. A god who demands absolute submission. A god who can institute someone, a man above all, as his unquestionable representative, so that, for example, someone under spiritual guidance can arrive at the conviction, however tormented she might be, that every decision or proposal of her director is a divine order, even if it is a sexual relationship with him as an initiatory exercise to end up experiencing divine love. In god’s name.

Not in the name of God, universal Presence, creating and liberating Breath.

Aizarna, 28 November, 2023
(Translated by Sarah J. Turtle)