PARIS, France — L’Arche International published the results Saturday of an independent investigation detailing sexual misconduct by its founder Jean Vanier with six women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction.
“We are 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,” the leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney, wrote in a letter to L’Arche federation Feb. 22.
Vanier was the founder of L’Arche, an international community of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.
The report found that none of the abused women were intellectually disabled.
L’Arche commissioned GCPS, an independent U.K. consultancy specializing in the reporting of exploitation and abuse last April to investigate Vanier’s link to Fr. Thomas Philippe, an abusive Dominican priest sanctioned by Church authorities in 1956, whom Vanier described as his “spiritual mentor.”
During the investigation, the inquiry received “credible and consistent testimonies” from six adult women without disabilities that Jean Vanier initiated sexual behaviors with them often “in the context of spiritual accompaniment” over the period of more than 30 years from 1970 to 2005, according to the L’Arche summary report of the investigation’s findings.
“The women each report that Jean Vanier initiated sexual behaviours with them, usually in the context of spiritual accompaniment. Some of these women have been deeply wounded by these experiences. Jean Vanier asked each of the women to keep the nature of these events secret. They had no prior knowledge of each other’s experiences, but these women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these sexual behaviours,” a L’Arche International report summary states.
This behavior follows the pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior demonstrated by Fr. Philippe, the report finds. The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) confirmed and completed in December 2019 elements in the inquiry relating to the trial of Fr. Philippe, who died in 1993, and Vanier’s knowledge of the misconduct.
According to archived letters studied in the report, the CDF directed in 1956 that Jean Vanier be informed of the Church’s condemnation of Fr. Philippe’s conduct and “mystical doctrine.”
Vanier denied in 2015 and 2016 that he had any knowledge of Fr. Thomas Philippe’s abusive behavior.
Tina Bovermann, the executive director of L’Arche USA, said the results of independent inquiry caused her “pain and resolve.”
“Pain, because of the suffering of innocent lives. Pain, because of the hurt that it might create in you, members and friends. Resolve, because truth matters. Resolve, because the value of every person matters. Always. Unconditionally. Particularly when marginalized and silenced for many years,” Bovermann said in a statement.
She emphasized that the inquiry found no misconduct related to L’Arche in the United States.
Until the late 1990s, Vanier oversaw the entire L’Arche organization, which grew into 154 communities and more than 10,000 members. He penned 30 books, was feted with awards and honors from governments around the globe, and became a sought after speaker. He was a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Vanier died in May 2019 at the age of 90 after a protracted battle with cancer.
L’Arche International has set up an additional centralized reporting procedure for any further information that people may wish to report. This information will be received by a task force composed of people outside of L’Arche.
“We will continue to develop and implement our safeguarding policies and procedures so that they become an integral part of our community life and contribute to the safety and growth of all our members,” Posner and Cates-Carney said.
“In the weeks and months to come, we will be asking our leaders to organize spaces for dialogue and support so that any and all members with or without disabilities will have the opportunity to express their feelings, thoughts and questions,” they stated.