Mary McAleese has written to Pope Francis about the allegations of sexual misconduct against L’Arche founder Jean Vanier. The former Irish president told the pope she could leave the Catholic Church if the Holy See is found to have failed to act in the case.
McAleese wrote to Pope Francis Feb. 26 asking for an explanation about how Varnier was able to rise to such acclaim in the Church despite his sexual misconduct. The letter was published on her own website.
On Feb. 22 L’Arche International announced the conclusions of an internal report which found Vanier had abused his position and relationship to sexually coerce six women over a period of decades. Vanier died on May 7, 2019, at the age of 90. After his death, Pope Francis issued a statement mourning Vanier, and praising his work with persons with intellectual disabilities.
“I am conscious that you yourself have publicly praised Vanier and indeed spoke to him and of him in glowing terms just before his death,” McAleese wrote to the pope, noting that by 2019 the Vatican was aware that one of Vanier’s associates had a history of sexual predation.
Vanier, a Catholic layman, founded L’Arche, which is an organization that assists people with intellectual disabilities through the creation of communities. L’Arche has no official ties to the Catholic Church.
“Given that vulnerable men and women were the intended beneficiaries of L’Arche, and that Vanier was consistently lauded by the Church at the highest level without the remotest suggestion that there was anything worrying in his character it is essential that the Holy See now explains how it came to so publicly commend a man whose predatory proclivities it was aware of,” said McAleese in the letter.
McAleese said that she had “regarded Vanier as inspirational for decades” and was devastated by the report stating he had engaged in sexually manipulative relationships with six women over a 45 year period. None of the women had intellectual disabilities.
The former Irish president said that while she had “reason to despair at the failures at papal, episcopal and Curial level” in recent abuse crises, she would be unable to reconcile any knowledge that the Vatican shielded Vanier.
“If however it transpires that the Holy See failed to protect members of L’Arche community by alerting them to the known predatory activities of Vanier and (Fr. Thomas) Philippe, I have to say that this will be my final line of least resistance,” she said.
“I could not in conscience continue to support an institution capable of such gross negligence.”
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