François Houtart has been accused of touching a child, and he has acknowledged this.

However ‘minor’ the real offence may have been, forty years ago, learning about them now is a shock. It is a shock because Houtart is one of the ‘popes’ of the global justice movement, an intellectual leader for millions of people all over the world.

As a first reaction, let me mention three points :

In my opinion, this offence does not change anything concerning the merits of Houtart in the global justice movement, as an academic and as an activist. He was one of the founders of the World Social Forum and his work surely contributed and continues to contribute to the building of ‘another world’.

Secondly, this situation once again highlights the absurdity of oppressing the sexuality of young men and women in the Church. Fortunately, Houtart is not someone who has preached ‘morality’ to young people. Moreover, and however much we have to condemn the offence Houtart committed, we must also recognise and acknowledge openly that the Church used to turn a blind eye to any such behaviour in the past, at a time when relationships with women were taboo.

Thirdly, this sad story makes me aware of the ambiguity of our being human. It makes me think of Vargas LLosa’s latest novel, about Roger Casement, the hero of the Congo and Amazonia - where he defended indigenous people - but where he was then hung in Britain for not only for his Irish nationalism but also for his homosexuality. There are no ‘heroes’, says Vargas Llosa; every man and woman lives with the best and the worst within him or herself.

The global justice movement will survive this crisis. It is now a global social agent that does not depend on one person. And personally, I continue to admire François Houtart, his proposals for the ‘Common Good of Humanity’ are among the most innovative and interesting we have. Let us accept the ambiguity that is within each one of us, without condoning the offences.

(Francine Mestrum, (external link), September 2012, based on text written in December 2010 and posted on (external link)