Tuesday, February 25, 2020

L'Arche releases Letter and New Video about Founder's Abuse of Women "... to all of you, we ask forgiveness."

February 22, 2020

Dear friends,

Last June, we informed you of our decision to initiate an inquiry for which we‘commissioned an external agency to conduct a thorough and independent investigation that will allow us to better understand our history,  to  improve  our  work  in  preventing  abuse  and  thus  to  improve  our  own  current  policies  and practices’. This included answering questions about ‘the environment surrounding Father Thomas [at the time  he  abused  adult  women  without  disabilities  in  L’Arche],  including  the  role  of  Jean  Vanier  in  this environment.

 ’. The  decision  to  launch  this  work  and  to  share  its  conclusions  with  you  has  been  approved  by  the International Leadership Team and the Stewardship Board of L'Arche International. This work continues the  effort  begun  in  2014  by  our  predecessors,  Patrick  Fontaine  and  Eileen  Glass,  when  testimonies involving Father Thomas reached them.

It is with great sorrow that we come to share with you the results of this inquiry and our own research.

The timing of this work, specifically coming so close to Jean’s death, was simply a coincidence.
(The Newly released Video below from L'Arche has English Subtitles)

Because  this  work  implicates  Jean  Vanier  and  calls  into  question  some  of  our  assumptions  about  the origins of L'Arche, the conclusions we are reporting to you today are challenging and will upset many of us. Mindful of the courage of those who shared their testimonies, and aware of the values that inspire L'Arche, we share these conclusions with you.

After a careful examination of the documentary sources to which L’Arche International had access and of  the  testimonies  brought  to  the  attention  of  the  investigators,  today  we  can  affirm  the  following points:

• As early as the 1950s, and contrary to what he  told us, Jean Vanier, was aware of many of the
significant reasons for the 1956 canonical trial and the condemnation by the Catholic Church of
Father Thomas Philippe because of his theories that were described as " false mysticism" and of
the sexual practices that derived from these theories.
Father Thomas Philippe was the person that Jean described as his spiritual father and, Jean said,
the  person  who  called  him  to  found  L'Arche.  In  2015,  twenty-two  years  after  his  death,  the
Federation learned that Father Thomas had abused adult women, without disabilities, while he
was in L'Arche, Trosly  (France) and exercising his ministry as a priest. On many occasions  Jean
had  asserted  his  ignorance  of  this  abuse  and  he  never  disclosed  the  reality  of  his  close
relationship to Father Thomas during the 1950s.

• Indeed,  Jean  Vanier  who  was  still  a  young  man  at  that  time,  was  in  a  close  and  trusting
relationship with Father Thomas Philippe, and would have shared some of the sexual practices
initiated  by  Father  Philippe,  with  women  who  described  themselves  as  consenting  by  various
consistent sources of evidence to which we have had access.

• In  1956 Father Thomas  Philippe was condemned  by  the Church and was  banned  from  further
contact with a small group that included Jean Vanier. Despite this, Father Thomas Philippe, Jean
and  several  women  remained  connected  until  the  founding  of  L’Arche  in  1964.    Some  of  the members  of  this group were in  our  community in Trosly at  the very  beginning  of  L'Arche and
participated  in  L’Arche  for  many  years  without  ever  revealing  the  nature  of  their  original
relationships.

• In addition,  the inquiry  received  credible and  consistent  testimonies  covering  the  period  from
1970  to  2005  from  six  adult  women without  disabilities  that  were  not  related  to  the  above
group.  The women each report that Jean Vanier initiated sexual behaviours with them, usually
in the context of spiritual accompaniment.  Some of these women have been deeply wounded
by these experiences. Jean Vanier asked each of the women to keep the nature of these events
secret.  They had no prior knowledge of each other’s experiences, but  these women  reported
similar  facts  associated  with  highly  unusual  spiritual  or  mystical  explanations  used  to  justify
these sexual behaviours.

These actions are indicative of a deep psychological and spiritual hold Jean Vanier had on these
women and reveal his own adoption of some of Father Thomas Philippe’s deviant theories and
practices which he continued over a very long period of time.
We  are  shocked  by  these  discoveries  and  unreservedly  condemn  these  actions,  which  are  in  total contradiction  with  the  values  Jean  claimed  and  are  incompatible  with  the  basic  rules  of  respect  and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L’Arche is based.

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, both inside and outside L'Arche, we are thinking in particular of  the  members  of  Faith  and  Light,  and  we  are  aware  of  the  deep  confusion  and  pain  that  this information will cause. 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.

Whatever Jean Vanier understood or believed about these relationships or the different perceptions the women who provided testimony had of them, the inquiry has established that some of the women were deeply harmed by these events and experienced long-term negative impacts.

Jean  hid  part  of  his  identity  and  his  silence,  for  whatever  reason,  allowed  unacceptable  practices  to persist  and  gave  us  a  distorted  view  of  our  founding  history. We  want  to emphasize  that there  is  no evidence that Jean Vanier may have engaged in similar behaviour with people with disabilities. It will take more time and work, with help from outside L'Arche, to try and understand this part of our history and the roots of such behaviours. It is also possible that additional information will come to us and add to our understanding of these events.  We will continue this research and keep you informed of our ongoing efforts and the findings.

As  planned  at  the  outset  of  this  work,  we  will  also  undertake  a  thorough  evaluation  of  our  current measures to prevent abuse and protect persons with and without disabilities, including the way in which reports, past or  recent, have been handled in our  federation. Furthermore, in addition  to  the existing reporting procedures already in place in our communities or countries, L'Arche International has set up a centralized reporting procedure to which all our members can have access in a secure and confidential environment. A  task  force, composed in part of people  from outside L'Arche, is in charge of collecting this information and determining what to do with it.

We  will  continue  to  develop  and  implement  our  safeguarding  policies  and  procedures  so  that  they become  an  integral  part  of  our  community  life  and  contribute  to  the  safety  and  growth  of  all  our members. In  the weeks and months  to  come, we will  be asking  our leaders  to  organize  spaces  for  dialogue and support  so  that any and all members with  or without  disabilities will  have  the  opportunity  to express their feelings, thoughts and questions.  For those that wish you can also find a summary of our work on the  website.  The  summary  report,  which  sets  out  the  main  findings,  has  been  developed  from  the historical  research  and  the  more  detailed  confidential  inquiry  report  that  we  have  shared  with  the International Leadership Team and the International Stewardship Board. Although  the  results  of  our  research  and  this  investigation  affect  us  deeply,  both  individually  and collectively,  we  have  a  duty  to  those  who  have  been  hurt  by  these  events  and  a  duty  to  ourselves;

L’Arche will not have a future if we are not able to look at our past with clear eyes. What we learn today is a huge blow and a cause of great confusion but what we lose in certainty, we hope to gain in terms of maturity, and to step into the future of L'Arche with greater justice, insight and freedom.

We want to pay tribute to the women who gave us their testimony. As leaders in L'Arche, our job is not to protect ourselves against painful truths, but to be faithful to the principles that guide us and to affirm "the unique value of each person” 1

. We  recognize  the courage and  suffering of  these women, and of
those who may  remain silent. We also want  to express our gratitude  to  the women who, a  few years ago,  broke  the  silence  about  Father  Thomas  Philippe and  thus  helped  others  to  speak  out  about  the undue burden of shame and pain.  Because these events took place in the context of L'Arche and some were brought about by our founder; to all of you, we ask forgiveness.

If the words of those who testified bring to light a troubled part of our history, their efforts give L'Arche a chance to continue on its journey, to become more aware of our history, and, ultimately, better able to  face  the  challenges  of  our  time.  We  understand  - that  this  was  also  their  intention,  and  we  are grateful for it.

To all of you, members of L'Arche around  the world, we  reiterate our  strong bonds of  friendship, our concern for each other and our confidence in our collective ability to get through this ordeal. It is with trust  in  God  and  the  support  of  our  friends,  that  we  continue  to  strive,  in  our  communities,  our neighbourhoods, our cities and our countries, “to work together, [people with and without disabilities], towards  a  more  humane  society “

.  It  is  our  hope  that  the  work  we have  just  shared  with  you  will contribute to this.

Stephan Posner                         Stacy Cates-Carney

International Leader                   Vice-International Leader

 1 *Identity and Mission Statement. March 2007
Source: https://www.larche.org/documents/10181/2539004/Letter-Federation_International-Leaders_2020-02-22_EN.pdf/

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