On February 22nd, 2020, the leaders of L’Arche International 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 U.K. 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 behaviors. 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 Father 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 Father 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 Father 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 Father 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 Father 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 Father 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 Father 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 Safeguarding Response Team 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.”
The letters written by the L’Arche International Leaders to the Federation on the GCPS inquiry, as well as the Summary Report of the inquiry and the historical research, are available here:
Inquiry and historical timeline
Letter from International Leaders – June 2019
Letter from International Leaders – July 2019
Summary Report – February 2020
Letter from International Leaders – February 2020
Conférence des Evêques de France – Press Release (in French) – February 2020
CIASE Press Release (in French) – February 2020
Interview with the International Leader on KTO TV – February 2020
Message from International Leaders – May 2021
Study Commission and Scientific Committee – August 2021
Canonical Enquiry related to Père Thomas Philippe
Message from Patrick Fontaine and Eileen Glass (International Leaders 2012-2017) – March 2015