Shattered: Catholic community confronts its founder's lies
(Excerpt from longer article)
Vanier, a former Canadian and Royal Navy officer, founded L’Arche in 1964 in northern France. He initially invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him, then built the utopian-style, Catholic-inspired community into an international movement bringing people with and without disabilities to live together in a spirit of mutual respect.
Born to socially prominent, religiously devout parents — his father was governor general of Canada — Vanier arrived at his calling after having joined a spiritual community, L’Eau Vive, in 1950 that was founded by a French Dominican priest, the Rev. Thomas Philippe.
According to the investigative reports, it was at L’Eau Vive that Vanier fell under Philippe’s spell and was initiated into the priest’s mystical-sexual practices.
Philippe developed his twisted theology after experiencing what he called a mystical “grace” one night in 1938 in Rome, while looking at a fresco of the Madonna in the church atop the Spanish Steps. Over time, the “graces” came to involve sexual gratification with women that both Philippe and Vanier justified by claiming that Jesus and Mary were involved in similarly incestuous sexual relationships.
The Vatican was informed of Philippe’s deviant practices by two victims in 1952; four years later it sanctioned Philippe for “false mysticism.” The Vatican forbade him from public or private ministry, ordered L’Eau Vive dissolved and its members forbidden from reconstituting the community.
But Philippe, Vanier and the women they had manipulated disobeyed, and regularly met in secret, according to private correspondence and church archives only recently made available to the L’Arche-commissioned researchers.
Over time, Philippe resumed his priestly ministry as his Dominican superiors ignored the Vatican sanctions, at which point Vanier, a layman, founded L’Arche. The study commission concluded in its January report that Vanier did so as a “screen” to hide the reuniting of the original L’Eau Vive group, even though there was also a sincere commitment to help people who otherwise would have been institutionalized.
The study commission identified at least 25 women whom Vanier abused, none of them intellectually disabled. It determined that Vanier and Philippe’s deviant practices didn’t extend beyond the core “sect” at the original community in northern France. But it called for vigilance, especially in the way authority and power are exercised in L'Arche's more than 150 communities in 37 countries.
L’Arche’s leaders have apologized to the victims, thanked them for their courage in coming forward, and assumed responsibility for not having spotted the abuses earlier. They say they questioned Vanier repeatedly as soon as the first victims came forward, as well as what he knew about Philippe’s 1956 Holy Office condemnation, but that he lied to them.
ignificantly, L’Arche was able to obtain a summary report of Phillipe’s 1956 canonical trial, which shows the Vatican was well-versed in the dynamics of abuse of power over women, decades before the #MeToo movement put it in the spotlight.
But the researchers, who hailed from a variety of academic disciplines, blamed the Vatican’s secrecy in handling the Philippe case for laying the groundwork for L’Arche's scandal. They found that no one except a few Vatican and Dominican superiors knew of Philippe's deviance or his sanctions, “precisely what allowed him to maintain his reputation for holiness and to rewrite history as he pleased.”
One of the Vatican's top experts in abuse prevention, the Rev. Hans Zollner, praised L'Arche for its “fearless” courage in exposing the painful truth about its past and said the phenomenon of spiritual gurus misusing their authority can't be ignored any longer by the church.