The revelation that Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and the associated Faith and Light movement, had sexual relationships with at least six women over some three decades elicits shock and pain on many levels.
The misconduct was reported by L’Arche after an external investigation, which began last year as Vanier was dying. The relationships — which did not involve people with intellectual disabilities — were in the context of spiritual guidance, in which “spiritual” or “mystical” reasons were given for the sexual relations. The conduct was gravely sinful, manipulative and sacrilegious.
Vanier died in May 2019. A woman had made allegations against Vanier in March 2019; a full external report was decided upon in April 2019 and commissioned in June 2019. It was that report that was released last week.
There was an allegation against Vanier in 2016 from another woman that was investigated by L’Arche at the time. Vanier acknowledged that sexual relationship but defended it as consensual. It was not publicly revealed at the time, but it means that at the time of Vanier’s death, L’Arche’s international leadership knew about at least one sexual relationship which Vanier had admitted to.
It appears that Vanier adopted the practices of his “spiritual father,” Father Thomas Philippe, with whom Vanier began living in the L’Eau Vive community of France in 1950. Father Philippe was investigated for sexual misconduct in 1952 and removed from his position. He was dismissed from the clerical state in 1956 after a Vatican investigation. Vanier defied the Vatican sanctions regarding Philippe and facilitated him meeting clandestinely with the members of the suppressed L’Eau Vive. Later Vanier would bring Philippe back into proximity with L’Arche at Trosly, France, the international headquarters where Vanier lived.
Philippe died in 1993, and a further investigation into his misconduct was completed in 2014-2015. At that time, Vanier publicly denied knowing anything about the sexual misconduct, even though he had been aware of it — as well as having participated in it — for 60 years.
The combination of facilitating the behavior of Philippe, exposing new victims to him, committing the same acts himself and then lying about it all afterwards all make the Vanier case one of the worst sexual scandals in the Church, even though this did not involve minors or disabled people.
For the tens of millions of people who intensely admired Jean Vanier and were inspired by him, the results of the investigations are difficult to believe, an entire lifetime of lies and corruption alongside his celebrated work as founder of L’Arche.
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