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L'Arche: Internal investigation reveals abuses committed by Jean Vanier

A lengthy internal investigation by L'Arche reveals sexual abuse of several women by the founder. These are the reactions of L'Arche and the French Bishops' Conference.

In a letter sent on 22 February to the L'Arche Federation, the leaders of the movement made public the conclusions of the investigation which they had entrusted to an external and independent body. The investigation included testimonies implicating its founder, Jean Vanier, and his links to Fr Thomas Philippe, a Dominican priest, whom he considered to be his spiritual father.

Since 2014, several testimonies by women who had been sexually abused by Thomas Philippe had been received by L'Arche officials, which prompted this investigation. This long-term probe also uncovered acts of abuse committed by Jean Vanier. "In the course of this investigation, sincere and consistent testimonies spanning from 1970-2005 were received from six adult women without disabilities indicating that Jean Vanier initiated sexual relations with them, generally as part of spiritual accompaniment. Some of these women have suffered deep wounds," reads the press release published by L'Arche.

"Overwhelmed by these discoveries"

"These actions indicate the psychological and spiritual hold that Jean Vanier had over these women and show his adoption of some of Father Thomas Philippe's deviant theories and practices," reads the statement from the movement. The shock wave among the leaders of L'Arche is immense. In a letter to the members of L'Arche, the current leaders, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates Carney write: "We are deeply shocked by these discoveries and we unreservedly condemn these actions which are in total contradiction with the values that Jean Vanier stood for."

"We are conscious of the turmoil and pain that this information will cause for many of us, both inside and outside L'Arche... he inspired and comforted many people around the world," they write. "While the considerable good he did throughout his life is not in question, we will have to mourn a certain vision we may have had of him and of our origins," recalling that L'Arche is determined that its 154 communities around the world be places of security and growth for all its members, with or without disabilities.

Reaction of French bishops

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 Father 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, l'Arche is today present in 38 countries on five continents. It represents 153 communities 

22 February 2020, 15:15