By Sarah Mac Donald - 24 February, 2020
L’Arche Ireland and Northern Ireland has said it is “greatly saddened and shocked” by the revelations concerning the organisation’s founder, Jean Vanier.
An inquiry carried out by GCPS, an independent UK consultancy, which specialises in improving procedures for the prevention and reporting of abuse, 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.
The inquiry found no suggestion that he had inappropriate relationships with people with intellectual disabilities.
Responding to the findings, the leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney wrote to the federation of L’Arche.
They said they were “shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier claimed and are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L’Arche is based. ”
In addition to the investigation carried out by GCPS, 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.
Although the women who made the allegations against Vanier had no prior knowledge of each other’s experiences, they all reported similar facts relating to highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used by Vanier to justify these behaviours.
The relationships were found to be manipulative and emotionally abusive and had a significant negative impact on the women’s personal lives and subsequent relationships.
The women included assistants and nuns, according to the Canadian newspaper – the Globe and Mail – which first broke the story.
According to the inquiry, 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”. Jean Vanier referred to Fr Philippe as his spiritual mentor.
In September 1950, 22-year-old Vanier arrived at L’Eau Vive, a centre created by Dominican Fr Philippe as a “school of wisdom”.
However, in 1951, Fr Philippe was accused of sexual abuse by two women, and ordered to leave L’Eau Vive and to break contact with those he had worked with there, including Jean Vanier.
According to the inquiry, “between 1952 and 1964, Fr Philippe and Jean Vanier maintained a deep bond. Letters from this period [chiefly from Fr Thomas to Jean Vanier] report on the visits Vanier made to him and how he helped him meet clandestinely with the women of L’Eau Vive.”
The letters, released after Jean Vanier’s death, seem to indicate that “he shared sexual practices similar to those of Fr Thomas Philippe with several women”.
L’Arche Ireland and Northern Ireland paid tribute to the women who gave their testimony and said the organisation’s thoughts “very much remains with them”.
The statement, which was posted on the organisation’s website in Ireland said the inquiry, which is due to publish its findings on Tuesday, is being taken with the utmost seriousness to better understand its history and improve all safeguarding procedures and policies.
The Federation of L’Arche Communities, which operates 154 communities in 38 countries worldwide said it would be working with GCPS to implement any recommendations that arise from the process.
“This in no way reflects the ethos or operations, current or historical of L’Arche in Ireland/ Northern Ireland or in any part of the L’Arche International. Our utmost priority is the safety and welfare of all our community members, and we will support them through this news. L’Arche has undertaken a thorough review of well-established and recognised safeguarding policies and procedures across Ireland / Northern Ireland. We remain fully focused on our mission to ensure all community members realise their full potential,” the statement said.
One of the leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner spoke to The Tablet and said, “The considerable good [Vanier] did throughout his life is not in question”. He added that L’Arche will “nevertheless have to mourn a certain image we may have had of Jean.”
Jean Vanier set up the global network L’Arche in France in 1964. He died in May 2019 aged 90.
The son of a Canadian diplomat, he left a naval career in 1950 to study theology, saying he wanted to “follow Jesus”.
In 2015, he was the recipient of the Templeton Prize.
The letter from international officials and the findings of the investigation will be made available at www.larche.org