Statement from the Executive Director — Center for Action and Contemplation
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Statement from the Executive Director

February 5th, 2021

Earlier this week, Teresa Mateus, a respected colleague, posted an open letter critical of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Specifically, she has raised questions concerning my handling of allegations of abuse against a former Living School student and fellow member of our larger spiritual community. She also questions if CAC has acted in ways that enable abusive behavior. Her letter can be found here.

Our mission at CAC, grounded in Fr. Richard’s values and our contemplative tradition, is to be a source of healing and compassionate action in our world. That sets a high bar, and we have a duty to foster an environment that is free from harassment and oppression for our staff, students, and community. I take my own responsibility in that very seriously.

As I have continued to sit with the experiences Teresa shared, I’ve had my eyes opened as to how, in this instance, I fell short. Without question, my response to the concerns she raised should have been faster and more proactive than it was. As Executive Director, I take responsibility for the impact of my inaction, which resulted in direct and indirect harm to multiple individuals in our organization and community. I am deeply sorry to Teresa and other individuals impacted, and I acknowledge and thank Teresa for the courage she showed in sharing her story.

As leaders in the spiritual tradition of contemplation, all of us at CAC — board, management, teachers, and staff — recognize we have the responsibility to listen and learn from those who have experienced harm, including and especially in relation to gender and racial identities. I wholly agree that we owe the future of this work our most rigorous self-examination and a clear commitment to transparency and mutual accountability. The values we hold as an organization also demand such a response. Toward that goal, with concurrence from our board of directors, I am initiating a formal review of CAC’s and my actions by an independent outside party. Our board will aid in our discernment of appropriate follow-up steps in alignment with our values.

While my main hope here is to offer a sincere apology as a first step toward addressing this situation, there is also one important issue raised in Teresa’s letter I would like to clarify. CAC’s employee non-disclosure agreement (NDA) solely covers proprietary information related to our intellectual property, technology, and basic organizational matters. We did not and do not utilize NDAs to prevent any victim of abuse from sharing his or her experience with others or seeking the help they need.

Teresa’s letter also reflects on broader challenges many have experienced in contemplative organizations drawing from predominantly white spiritual traditions and communities, touching on what I consider to be one of the biggest and most complicated questions we face as an organization and a community. For the past three years, we have been undergoing an intentional learning process and examination around our own institutional relationship with race, and whiteness in particular. It has been – and remains – slow, painful, messy work. I am committed to continuing with that work both personally and as part of our institutional learning and transformation at CAC.

I believe that the model provided by Jesus and the Gospels of standing in solidarity with all suffering as God’s own suffering, which requires a contemplative mind and spirit, can be instrumental in supporting the transformation required in this moment. I pray with and for our team that we might continue learning, so as to do right by our mission and community, and to be truly equipped to carry Fr. Richard’s vision and work forward for the next generation.

Sincerely,

Michael Poffenberger
Executive Director
Center for Action and Contemplation

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