L'Arche: Investigation reveals abuses committed by Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier

Source: L'Arche/CEF/Vatican News

A lengthy internal investigation by L'Arche has revealed sexual abuse of several women by the founder.

Today, 22 February, 2020, the leaders of L'Arche International has sent a letter to the Federation of L'Arche Communities, which operates in 38 countries worldwide, publishing the results of an inquiry that had commissioned from an independent organization. The inquiry included testimony implicating its founder, Jean Vanier, and his historical link to Father Thomas Philippe, who he thought of as his spiritual father.

The investigation was carried out by GCPS, an independent UK consultancy which specializes in improving procedures for the prevention and reporting of abuse. In addition, L'Arche International established an Independent Oversight Committee made up of two former senior civil servants in France, to assess the integrity and reliability of the inquiry's process and findings.

Following their review of the report they stated: "We have no reason to question the methodology of the inquiry and the seriousness with which it was carried out. We therefore consider these conclusions to be well founded."

The inquiry received credible and consistent testimonies from six adult women without disabilities, covering the period from 1970 to 2005. The women each report that Jean Vanier initiated sexual relations with them, usually in the context of spiritual accompaniment. Although they had no prior knowledge of each other's experiences, these women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviours. The relationships were found to be manipulative and emotionally abusive, and had a significant negative impact on their personal lives and subsequent relationships. These actions are indicative of a deep psychological and spiritual hold Jean Vanier had on these women and confirm his own adoption of some of Fr Thomas Philippe's deviant theories and practices.

The inquiry made no suggestion that Jean Vanier had inappropriate relationships with people with intellectual disabilities.

Alongside the GCPS inquiry, L'Arche International commissioned a major piece of historical research based on previously unseen archives. Analysis of the various archives reveals the sources of Jean Vanier's attitude towards these women, and confirms that he adopted some of Fr Thomas Philippe's deviant theories and practices.

Indeed, the evidence gathered from the investigation, along with the historical research, shows that:

- As early as the 1950s, a decade before the founding of L'Arche, and contrary to what he publicly stated, Jean Vanier was aware of the key reasons for the canonical trial and condemnation of Fr Thomas Philippe by the Catholic Church in 1956. The reasons lay in his theories, which were described as "false mysticism", and the sexual practices that stemmed from them. Jean Vanier described Fr Thomas Philippe as his spiritual father.

- The historical research suggests that in the 1950s, Jean Vanier was a member of a small clandestine group which subscribed to and participated in, some of Fr Thomas Philippe's deviant sexual practices, which were founded on so-called "mystical" or "spiritual" beliefs that had been condemned by the Catholic Church. This group was made up of Fr Thomas Philippe, Jean Vanier and a few women.

L'Arche International submitted GCPS's final report, along with the historical research, to the Independent Church Sexual Abuse Commission in France (CIASE), which is responsible for investigating abuses within the Church in France.

In a letter dated 22th February 2020, the Leaders of L'Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney wrote to the L'Arche Federation:

"We are shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier otherwise stood for. They are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and dignity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L'Arche is based.

We recognize the courage and suffering of these women, and of any others who may not have spoken up. We also want to express our gratitude to the women who, by speaking out a few years ago about Fr Thomas Philippe, helped others to liberate themselves of a burden of shame and suffering they did not deserve to be carrying. To all of them, we ask forgiveness for these events which took place in the context of L'Arche, some of which were caused by our founder."

L'Arche is committed to making sure that its 154 communities across the world are places of safety and growth for all its members, with and without disabilities.

Across the Federation, L'Arche is undertaking a thorough and independent evaluation of its current safeguarding policies and procedures.

In addition to local safeguarding measures which are already in place throughout the Federation, L'Arche International has created a centralized whistleblowing procedure, available for all its members. Information or reports received will be dealt with by a commission www.larche.org/en/web/guest/prevention-and-safeguarding partly made up of people outside L'Arche.

In the same letter the two International Leaders state: "For many of us, Jean was one of the people we loved and respected the most. Jean inspired and comforted many people around the world … and we are aware that this information will cause many of us, both inside and outside L'Arche, deep confusion and pain. While the considerable good he did throughout his life is not in question, we will nevertheless have to mourn a certain image we may have had of Jean and of the origins of L'Arche."

They add: "The words of those who have testified bring to light a troubled part of our history, but they give L'Arche the opportunity to move forwards with a better understanding of our history and, ultimately, better equipped to face the challenges of our time."

In a statement released Saturday, the Permanent Council of the French Bishops' Conference (CEF) said it learned "with shock and sorrow" what the investigation conducted by L'Arche revealed about its founder. "The bishops who are members of the Permanent Council thank the women victims of Jean Vanier who had the courage to speak out about what they suffered." The bishops of France nonetheless reiterate "their confidence in the communities of L'Arche where disabled people and their caregivers live in authentic relationships of mutual respect and service".

The Bishops' Conference also pointed out that at the end of the Investigation, "there is no indication that disabled people have been victims of inappropriate acts by Jean Vanier. The CEF will join forces with CORREF, (the Conference of Religious of France), the French Province of the Dominican Order and the Congregation of the Brothers of Saint John "to continue the necessary work of clarifying the situation of Fr Thomas Philippe, a Dominican who died in 1993 and who had been severely condemned by Rome in 1956, a condemnation whose terms have been gradually forgotten or neglected."

Founded in 1964, there are 153 l'Arche communities in 38 countries on five continents.


L'Arche International

Tags: Jean Vanier, Abuse, L'Arche

We Need Your Support

ICN aims to provide speedy and accurate news coverage of all subjects of interest to Catholics and the wider Christian community. As our audience increases - so do our costs. We need your help to continue this work.

Please support our journalism by donating today.