Jean Vanier, founder of the ecumenical L’Arche communities that provide group homes and spiritual support for people with intellectual disabilities, used his status to have ‘manipulative’ sexual relationships with at least six women, an internal investigation commissioned by the organisation has concluded.
The investigation reports ‘sincere and consistent testimony covering the period 1970-2005’ from six adults, none of whom had disabilities.
These women report Vanier initiated sexual relations with them, the report says. Vanier, who died in 2019, asked the women to keep their relations secret.
The report says the women reported similar facts, although they did not know each other or about their parallel histories.
L’Arche International promised ‘a thorough and independent investigation’ in order ‘to better understand our history, to improve our work in preventing abuse and thus to improve our own current policies and practices’. In particular, the organisation wanted to shed light on the environment surrounding Fr Thomas Philippe, Vanier’s spiritual director, who had sexually abused adult women who were not disabled; the organisation learnt about it in 2015, 22 years after the priest’s death. In a Church trial in the 1950s, the priest was banned from exercising any public or private ministry.
The alleged acts with Vanier took place in Trosly-Breuil, France, where L’Arche was founded in 1964 and where Fr Philippe and Vanier lived almost permanently until their deaths. All the testimonies mention the same procedure: The women received an invitation to go to Vanier’s room, under the pretext of receiving spiritual direction.
In a letter addressed to members of L’Arche communities around the world, which was due out on Tuesday 25th February but leaked to the media earlier, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney, respectively international officer and vice international officer, presented the main conclusions of the investigation entrusted to the British consulting firm GCPS Consulting, which specialises in situations involving children or vulnerable persons. Members of L’Arche were informed last June that such a process had begun.
The investigation reveals the depth of the relationship between Vanier and Fr Philippe and says Vanier lied when he said he was unaware of the canonical sanctions against his mentor.
Picture: Jean Vanier. (CNS photo/courtesy Jean Vanier Association).