An open letter to L’Arche friends and partners…
Three years ago, six courageous women, without intellectual disabilities, raised their voices to denounce the sexual and spiritual abuse they experienced with L’Arche’s founder, Jean Vanier. These 2020 revelations came in the wake of the brave testimony of other women, also without intellectual disabilities, who endured similar experiences with Vanier’s spiritual father, Thomas Philippe.
On behalf of L’Arche in the United States, I condemn, strongly and without any reservation, the insidious grooming, the psychological and spiritual exploitation, the intentional use and abuse of power, the sexual violence, the lies, manipulation, and deceit by which Mr. Vanier and Mr. Philippe caused hurt and harm to their victims. Some truths are subjective and relative to one’s experience, rightfully so. Other truths are factual, proven and objective. They are Truth.
L’Arche in the U.S. trusts and painfully accepts the truth that was revealed. We feel deep grief about the pain that was endured. L’Arche recognizes that we were not able to prevent, identify or report the abuses, and, consequently, we could not stop them. We offer our heartfelt and sincere apologies for the suffering that these situations created.
L’Arche International has joined the “Commission Reconnaissance et Réparation“. This independent commission was set up by the French Catholic Church to receive and treat reparation requests for abuse committed by clerics or lay people. Victims of Thomas Philippe and of Jean Vanier, whether they live in France or abroad, have the possibility to engage, if they so wish, in a process of restorative justice.
In 2020, we were shocked to learn that these abusive acts occurred in the first L’Arche community in France and over several decades. How could this have happened? Did nobody see or notice?
But that wasn’t all, because truth begets truth: the courage of the women and Vanier’s death in 2019 led to archival research that revealed, equally in 2020, that Vanier was part of a small sectarian group that subscribed to Philippe’s predatory and deviant doctrine and practices. L’Arche’s members, partners and friends were lied to and deceived by Vanier. And we were left with many questions. Was this a cult? Did it spread beyond the founding community in France to other communities, here in the U.S. and elsewhere? Was the abuse systematic? How must Vanier’s life and legacy be understood today? How are we to understand L’Arche’s founding story? Do these shadow sides of L’Arche’s history impact L’Arche’s organizational culture and practices today, here in the U.S., and if so, how?
We did not want to dismiss our many questions. For, as hard and painful as the truth is, it is also an opportunity to learn and to grow, to discard what is radically antithetical to L’Arche and to invest in what sustains L’Arche’s people and mission today.
Merely months after the publication of the inquiry results, L’Arche International initiated a Study Commission comprised of six interdisciplinary French academics (two historians, a sociologist, a theologian, a psychiatrist, and a psychoanalyst). The Commission built on previous inquiries, worked independently for two years, sifted through innumerable documents, and conducted over 100 interviews. Today, the Commission presented its 900-page report. A statement from L’Arche USA can be found here.
Trauma damages and can destroy lives. Yet, the women who testified have courageously seized and leveraged the power of truth. We will be forever indebted to them. Because the women’s courage calls and enables L’Arche to seek its own path towards truth. These women have modeled for us that although truth might be painful, it is always powerful.
Despite the pandemic and never-seen shortages of direct support professionals, L’Arche is committed to harnessing the power of truth-telling. Supported by our funders and partners and carried by the commitment of our members, L’Arche in the U.S. and elsewhere has been engaged in a profound process of reckoning and renewal.
- Since 2017, the Federation has made significant investments in its safeguarding infrastructure. From detailed protocols and policies to substantive audits, L’Arche is determined to comply with the highest safeguarding standards.
- Related, we are investing in the crucial work of increasing our diversity and improving our practices of inclusion and belonging. The spiritual and psychological abuse perpetrated by Vanier hits L’Arche particularly hard, given that we serve vulnerable populations. An impact study in 2020 revealed areas where people of all backgrounds benefit from L’Arche. It also highlights areas where L’Arche must become more inclusive of minority identities and those on the margins.
- Our leadership model, our understanding and practices of authority and accountability, of collaboration and power, of training and accompaniment, are a direct heritage of our founder. A 2022 L’Arche-internal reflection and study freed us to look critically at that heritage. We are now developing a new leadership curriculum and framework and are in the process of revising all L’Arche USA’s related policies and practices.
- Last but not least, the entire Federation is engaged in re-articulating the values that unite us. The new Charter of the International Federation of L’Arche Communities will be proposed to its members at the upcoming assembly in June 2023.
We are amazed by our members. We are grateful for their challenging questions and encouraging commitment, and celebrate their creativity, steadfastness, and agility. We are equally grateful for the continued trust of numerous individuals and organizations: foundations, volunteers, donors, friends, family members, and partners, you who are reading this letter, who have journeyed with L’Arche through these challenging times.
We witness the power of L’Arche’s mission every day: friendships across differences; voices made heard; quality services provided, respect and laughter, celebrations, and joy, authenticity. Truth can be painful. Truth is always powerful. Truth is always right. We believe in its justice and are grateful for the opportunities that it invites.
With gratitude for the many women whose bravery has released the power of truth and the opportunities ahead of us, I remain sincerely,
Executive Director / National Leader