Regarding Father Thomas Philippe

Regarding Father Thomas Philippe

After having resigned from the navy, Jean Vanier decided that he wanted to follow Jesus.  When he was 21 his parents introduced him to Father Thomas Philippe. This Dominican scholar, who enjoyed an extensive reputation as a theologian, became his teacher, the rector of his student community and his spiritual father. Two years later, Father Thomas, for reasons undisclosed, was forbidden by Rome to carry out his pastoral ministery. Jean’s move toward the priesthood was shattered, without however destroying his filial level of respect for Father Thomas. During the ensuing years, Jean continued his training in theology at the Catholic Institute of Paris and started to teach in Canada. In 1964, Jean visited Father Thomas in the mental institution where he was chaplain. This encounter with people suffering from intellectual and psychological difficulties incited Jean to make a commitment to them. Father Thomas confirmed the spiritual nature of this call. He encouraged Jean to follow Jesus in this way, even if he did not share a number of his orientations. L’Arche was born, grew and developed under Jean’s direction, beginning with the first small home where he lived with Raphaël Simi and Philippe Seux. 

Father Thomas, for his part, devoted more and more of his time to spiritual accompaniment for his network of faithful followers. He died in 1993. However, in 2014, adult women, without disabilities, testified that they had been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Father Thomas during accompaniment. The leaders of L’Arche requested a canonical enquiry, which was immediately carried out by the accompanying Bishop for L’Arche International, and during which the victims were able to tell their stories and the facts were confirmed. L’Arche International strongly condemns these acts and stands alongside the victims, conscious of the gravity of the impact of the abuse on their lives.


Revelations about Father Thomas’ misconduct

Actions undertaken by L’Arche

Since June 2014, when we received the first testimonies about père Thomas’ misconduct, the accompaniment of victims and a quest for truth have been at the heart of our decisions and actions, and we have constantly striven to act out of the greatest respect for those concerned. 

  • In June 2014, we received, as did the Catholic Church, testimonies from two women denouncing serious sexual misconduct toward them on behalf of Father Thomas Philippe during spiritual accompaniment in the 70’s/80’s. Together with Mgr d’Ornellas and Jean Vanier, we decided to request a canonical enquiry, headed by Mgr d’Ornellas, in order to listen to those concerned and to establish the facts. The enquiry – which lasted from December 2014 to March 2015 – collected testimonies from 14 people. 
  • In March 2015, L’Arche International received the conclusions of the canonical enquiry, which they circulated in a letter addressed to all L’Arche members, which was accessible on L’Arche International’s external website. In this mail L’AI stresses that: ‘We strongly condemn these actions, aware as we are of the serious impact they have had on the lives of their victims. We reaffirm our regret and our compassion for all those concerned. It is inevitable that such acts call us to take a new look at Father Thomas’ teaching and at his contribution to L’Arche’s development.’   
  • In May 2015, during a wide circulation of L’Arche International’s letter, Jean Vanier also sent out a letter in which he acknowledged the suffering caused to the victims at the hands of Father Thomas and expressed his compassion for the victims and his incomprehension.  
  • In October 2015, the newspaper ‘La Croix’, that we had given an interview to, published an article entitled ‘L’Arche sheds light on the hidden side of Father Thomas Philippe’.
  • At the end of 2015, we launched a review of the foundation of L’Arche that we entrusted to 5 people, two of whom are not from L’Arche. They interviewed approximately 40 people who were in L’Arche during the founding period with a view to clarifying, according to them, the respective roles of Jean and Father Thomas in L’Arche’s foundation. The work of synthesis of these testimonies has been published in June 2017 (see below). 
  • At the end of 2016, a listening point, run by psychologists from outside of L’Arche, was set up in the Oise region to offer support to potential victims of Father Thomas, whether they had made themselves known as such to L’Arche or not. This listening point was then opened up to all those who felt themselves to have been abused by a member of L’Arche.   
  • April 6, 2017: At the request of some victims, and with their collaboration in the preparation, a mass for the victims of Father Thomas Philippe was celebrated in Trosly in April 2017, in the presence of victims, of L’Arche leaders and of three bishops. This mass was announced by the International Leaders to all L'Arche communities around the world.
  • From June 2017 to May 2018: the Community of Trosly, more strongly impacted by these past events, carried out a community review with the help of a psychologist.
  • June 2019: L’Arche International commissioned an external organization to conduct a thorough and independent inquiry in order to better understand its history, refine its work to prevent abuse and to improve its policies and procedures.

Protecting the dignity of each human being, starting with the most fragile, is a central part of L’Arche’s mission and fighting abuse is evidently at the heart of our concerns. These recently revealed historical tragedies only serve to further strengthen our determination.