PARIS, France, February 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Jean Vanier, the Catholic Canadian founder of L’Arche, the international network of communities for intellectually disabled individuals, sexually abused at least six women, an explosive summary report released Saturday by L’Arche International revealed.
The report documents that Vanier, who died last May at the age of 90, had “manipulative sexual relationships,” some of them “abusive and all of them coercive and non-consensual,” with the women, all adults associated with L’Arche, between 1970 and 2005, reported Ian Brown of the Toronto Globe and Mail, who broke the story Friday.
The investigation revealed that between 1952 and 1964, the year he founded L’Arche, Vanier shared women as sexual partners — though not at the same time — as well as “mystical” sexual and theological practices with the man he considered his “spiritual father,” French Dominican Father Thomas Philippe, who was also an inspiration for L’Arche, Brown reported.
The summary report details the longstanding relationship between Vanier and Philippe, who was condemned by the Catholic Church for his “false mysticism” and the deviant sexual practices that stemmed from it in a canonical trial in 1956 — six years after Vanier, who was then 22 and had recently left the Navy, met the priest in a community Philippe had started in France.
Philippe is the brother of Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe, founder of the Brothers of Saint John, a Catholic movement launched in France in 1975, which in November 2019 renounced him as their founder after it was revealed in 2013 he had sexually abused several women.
The report establishes that Vanier enabled and covered up for Philippe and denied as recently as 2016 that he knew about Philippe’s sexual perversions. It also states there is no evidence Vanier abused the intellectually disabled adults who are core members of L’Arche, which now operates 154 communities in 38 countries.
Vanier supported legalized assisted suicide
What is less known about Vanier, who was widely revered as a 'living saint,' was that he supported legalized assisted suicide and said that it was “not easy” to decide “when abortion is legal or not and until what month.”
In a 2016 interview with CBC, Vanier was asked directly whether he was in favor of a proposed assisted suicide law. At first, Vanier avoided answering directly. But, later in the interview, he stated that he was in favor of such a law.
“Shouldn't we have some legislation to permit this? I say yes, but let's put in safeguards,” he said.
Assisted suicide, the practice whereby a doctor helps a sick patient kill themselves, is condemned by the Catholic Church as contrary to the fifth commandment against murder.
When LifeSiteNews asked Vanier if he stood by his words in the CBC interview, pointing out his problematic quote, he responded: “I stand by everything that I have said.”
Vanier waffled on abortion
In 2008, Vanier refused to follow the example of other Canadians, such as Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Madonna House, in returning the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, after it was given to abortionist Henry Morgentaler. At the time, Vanier defended his decision in a letter to the same Ian Brown of the Globe, which stated in part that abortion and sexuality are complicated.
In light of Vanier’s sexual abuse, it is worthwhile to quote his response at length:
Sexuality can be such a beautiful reality – a bonding between a man and a woman founded upon a passion, a passion of love which can find its fulfilment in the bonding of a relationship which gives life and security, a friendship, a covenant.
But as we all know, this sexuality which can give life can also bring death. Sexual abuse of all sorts, pedophiles, prostitution, rape, all can deeply hurt people and even kill their hearts. It is not easy to keep the sexual urge contained and integrated into friendship – and a real relationship, where the other person is deeply respected in his or her needs and growth.
So quickly the sexual urge can become an addiction; it can get out of control, and be used for one's own excitement and pleasure and desire to possess and to control people without respect for them.
And then too often we see the shame, anger and despair of a woman who finds she is becoming a mother. An incredible movement of life has risen up in her, but she is not ready to become a mother. Her anguish makes her seek an abortion.
I do not want to say such a person in anguish is a “killer.” I would like to walk with her – maybe cry with her.
So we are not in front of something which is either “abortion” or “not abortion,” “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” We are in front of something so much more complex.
Who then can decide that a fetus is a baby or when a fetus becomes a baby? Most people do believe that infanticide is a crime. But who decides about when abortion is legal or not and until what month? So the question is not easy and particularly not easy for those who have no fixed principles about such matters.
The revelations of sexual abuse of women have likely irreparably destroyed the reputation of Vanier, son of Canada’s Governor General Georges Vanier and a bestselling author of such books as Becoming Human, who in life was heaped with honors, including the Order of Canada, and regarded as comparable in holiness with Saint Mother Teresa, and viewed after his death by many as a worthy candidate for canonization.
When Vanier died, pro-LGBT Jesuit priest James Martin praised him as “one of the great saints of our time.”
“Of all the people in our time who minister to people on the margins, I would say he and Mother Teresa were the avatars for Catholics,” stated Martin. “Jean Vanier showed us the great strength of tenderness and vulnerability and weakness, which is Christ’s message.”
Pope Francis had also praised Vanier, stating: “I want to thank him, and thank God for having given us this man.”
The nearly year-long investigation by GCPS, an independent U.K.-based specialist in investigating and preventing sexual abuse, was the result of what the Globe’s Brown describes as “a series of escalating suspicions.”
L’Arche International leader Stefan Posner commissioned the investigation in April 2019, as well as historical research from “previously unseen archives” in June, after a second woman made allegations against Vanier in March 2019.
In 2016, a woman alleged Vanier instigated a sexual relationship with her in the 1970s, and after an investigation, Vanier admitted to the relationship but said he thought it was consensual.
However, the accusations against Vanier were preceded by a 2014 canonical inquiry into allegations by as many as 14 women against Philippe, who died in 1993, Brown reported.
The inquiry found Philippe guilty of serial sexual abuse of women, but also raised questions about what Vanier and other L’Arche members knew of his activities.
In public letters of 2015 and 2016, Vanier denied any knowledge of Philippe’s sexual and theological perversions.
“I was deeply shocked and upset over the revelations of these last months about Father Philippe. A few years ago I was told of certain acts, but I remained totally in the dark until now as to the depth of their gravity. I wish to tell the victims my complete compassion for what they have lived. I weep alongside those who have been hurt,” he said in a statement at that time.
“All I can say is, ‘I do not understand.’ I am like a poor man in front of this. I do not want to judge or condemn. But I want to ask for forgiveness for all that I did not do or should have done,” he added.
But the investigation found that as early as the 1950s, Vanier knew the reasons for Philippe’s canonical trial and his sentence of deposition — “one of the most severe penalties provided for” in the 1917 code of canon law.
Moreover, the historical research suggests that Vanier, Philippe and “a few women” were part of a “small clandestine group which subscribed to and participated in, some of Father Thomas Philippe’s deviant sexual practices” that the Church had condemned.
Vanier’s ‘deviant theories and practices’
According to L’Arche International’s summary report of the GCPS investigation — the full report of which has not been released to protect the identity of the victims — the women all reported that Vanier “initiated sexual relations with them, usually in the context of spiritual accompaniment” and “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.”
The investigation revealed Vanier’s “deep psychological and spiritual hold” on the women, and that he had adopted Philippe’s “deviant theories and practices,” the summary stated.
“I was like frozen, I realised that Jean Vanier was adored by hundreds of people, like a living Saint, that he talked about how he helped victims of sexual abuse, it appeared like a camouflage and I found it difficult to raise the issue,” said one.
Another testified that at one point “the spiritual accompaniment transformed into sexual touching. I told him I had a lover, he said that it was important to distinguish (what happened between us) referring to the Song of Solomon. This went on for three or four years.”
According to Brown, a nun described Vanier telling her, after she “expressed my astonishment saying that I was consecrated to Jesus, and how could I manifest my love to Jesus and to him,” that: “This is not us, this is Mary and Jesus. You are chosen, you are special, this is secret.”
Philippe is also implicated, with one woman reporting that she went to see the Dominican for advice about “our secret with Jean Vanier.(…).”
“He told me to come and see him at 22h00. I knocked at the door. There was a curtain, and he sat on the bed. Before I could start talking about Jean Vanier, it started with him, the same as with Jean Vanier. He was not tender like Jean Vanier. More brutal, no intercourse, same words to say that I am special and that all this is about Jesus and Mary.”
Posner and co-leader of L’Arche International Stacy Cates Carney said in a letter that they are “shocked” by the revelations and “unreservedly condemn these actions,” and ask “forgiveness for these events which took place in the context of L’Arche, some of which were caused by our founder.”
They also thanked the women who spoke out against Vanier, and those who reported earlier on Philippe and thereby “helped others to liberate themselves of a burden of shame and suffering they did not deserve to be carrying.”
While it remains to be seen how the revelations will affect L’Arche, Canadians also are debating how practically to respond to such questions as removing Vanier’s name from “at least 13 elementary and high schools,” Brown noted.