As a confused teenager I looked up to John Powell SJ. He was a celebrated Professor of Theology and Psychology at Loyola University, Chicago and author of many hugely popular books…
My favourite was Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am. It offered insights on self-awareness, growth, and “interpersonal communication”. It concluded that the courage it takes a person to reveal himself to others is based on a mature love.
Then there was the spiritual classic Fully Human Fully Alive which discussed our vision of ourselves, others, the world, and God Himself. It gave me a spiritual framework to understand my life.
Real, selfless, mature, authentic love was at the heart of Powell’s message. And the key to it all was God as revealed through Jesus. Powell was eminently qualified to offer advice, having degrees in the classics, English, psychology and theology.
He helped me in my first Christian steps with God. His work as a Catholic priest, teacher and counselor led many to healing and authentic spiritual growth.
By the time I entered my early twenties I had forgotten all about him. My life had moved on.
Then a few years ago I came across some of his old books in my library and I Googled him. Stunned, I read that Fr Powell was accused of sexually abusing at least seven female students in the 1960s and 1970s. He was first sued in 2003 and again in 2006. Wiki says that ‘Six of his alleged victims settled their litigation in 2005’. No criminal charges were filed against Powell but the priest admitted to the abuse. He died in 2009.
The reason I tell this story is to remind myself that it is just possible that even our most respected Muslim leaders with seemingly impeccable characters can hide a dark side that only becomes known when the victims courageously speak out. I am not suggesting that Professor Tariq Ramadan is guilty of any such crimes.
Just that sometimes the unbelievable is the truth. It is a sobering thought.