For Decades, Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Hid a ‘Mystical-Sexual’ Sect

For Decades, Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Hid a ‘Mystical-Sexual’ Sect

An impartial committee ruled that Vanier and his mentor assaulted scores of women via predatory spiritual regimens.

An inquiry reveals that the secret was “carefully preserved for decades” two years after abuse charges against L’Arche’s late founder Jean Vanier were made public.

The Catholic theologian and pastor nurtured a covert “mystical-sexual” cult from the renowned Christian community he founded at Trosly-Breuil, France. Vanier raped at least 25 women during prayer and spiritual devotion over a roughly 70-year span, all of whom were adults without impairments.

The findings of the two-year research, commissioned by L’Arche in 2020, were published on Monday in an 868-page report. Following Vanier’s death in 2019 at the age of 90, a half-dozen of his victims came out for the first time.

An multidisciplinary team of experts reviewed 1,400 of Vanier’s private letters, including hundreds from a hidden folder. They interviewed 89 persons, eight of them were Vanier’s victims.

L’Arche became well-known and expanded around the globe as an organisation that brought individuals with and without intellectual impairments together. While the ministry provided dignity and fellowship to the disadvantaged throughout the years, the investigation claims that Vanier formed L’Arche as a cover to rejoin a group that practised contemplation and spiritual guidance with nudity and sexual contact.

“The bravery of the ladies, along with Vanier’s death in 2019, prompted archival investigation that showed… that Vanier was part of a tiny sectarian group that adhered to… predatory and deviant theology and practises,” Tina Bovermann, executive director of L’Arche USA, stated. “Vanier misled and fooled L’Arche members, partners, and friends.”

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The discoveries “stunned” L’Arche officials, according to Bovermann, who broke the news of the latest investigation and is also launching a podcast on the aftermath from the Vanier disclosures.

“We were left with a lot of questions,” she said. “How are we to comprehend the origins of L’Arche?”

The report outlines a French ministry called L’Eau viva (Living Water) that Vanier’s spiritual mentor, a Dominican priest named Thomas Philippe, conducted in the 1950s. According to the study, Philippe devised “theological grounds to legitimise his sexual activities with nuns or young laity women aspiring to a religious vocation” after having a mystic encounter with the Virgin Mary.

The Catholic Church forbade Philippe from public or private ministry as a result of his actions, but he kept in contact with Vanier and other members of L’Eau vive, who went on to create L’Arche in 1964. The name of the group was suggested by Jacqueline d’Halluin, an aspiring nun who became a devotee of Philippe and whose writings indicate a sexually close connection with Vanier. Until 1991, Philippe was the director of L’Arche’s spiritual centre La Ferme.

According to the committee, Vanier, Philippe, and others continued to abuse hundreds of women while working at L’Arche and on its property throughout the years as the organisation extended to Canada, India, and more than 30 countries. None of the victims were discovered to be disabled. Vanier’s victims were mostly Catholics from “privileged social backgrounds,” with some taking religious vows.

“The bulk of the incidents of control and sexual abuse probed by the commission occurred in the Trosly community. “Victims still reside nearby, and those suspected of sexual assault have been members and had positions of authority there,” they stated.

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Avijit Ghosh