Irish Times [Dublin, Ireland]
February 8, 2023
By Patsy McGarry
The Irish branch of L’Arche, an international charity for people with intellectual disabilities, has said it is “very disappointed and saddened” following a report that found its French-Canadian founder Jean Vanier had abused as many as 25 women.
Mairead Boland Brabazon, chief executive of L’Arche Ireland, said that “thankfully, the report has shown the rest of L’Arche was not involved”. She said she was grateful that the charity’s international leadership had “thoroughly investigated the matter and acknowledged the women involved. They have taken it very seriously.”
Ms Boland Brabazon oversees L’Arche’s four centres in Ireland, at Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Kilkenny, caring for up to 170 people with day services provided to more than 100 others.
What the latest report uncovered was “completely against our values”, she said. “We work very hard for people to have a very good quality of life,” she said, adding she was thankful for all the support the charity had received since the first revelations about Mr Vanier emerged in February 2020.
At the time an internal inquiry conducted by the charity found he had sexually abused six women. In 2015, Dominican priest Fr Thomas Philippe, Mr Vanier’s “spiritual father”, was found by a Catholic Church investigation to have sexually abused 14 women, many of them associated with the L’Arche community, with some incidents dating back to the 1970s. It is understood that no people with disabilities were abused. He died in 1993.
Ms Boland Brabazon said “the HSE and Hiqa have been very supportive” as have the families of the people they support. “They tell us to keep going, not to lose courage and not to be knocked back by the activities of one person,” she said.
The latest report is from an independent commission set up by the charity in 2020 after the initial revelations about the L’Arche founder. It concluded that “25 women of legal age, single, married or consecrated, and without disabilities, were identified as having experienced, at some point in their relationship with Jean Vanier, a situation involving a sexual act or an intimate gesture between 1952 and 2019”.
It continued that some of the women “presented themselves as victims of an abusive relationship, others as consenting partners in a transgressive relationship. Some of these women are now deceased. In their diversity, these relationships, sometimes concurrent, are all part of a continuum of confusion, control and abuse.”
It also said that there was “no indication that people with disabilities may have been exposed to such abuse” or that anyone at L’Arche “could be accused of deliberately covering up these abuses, although fragmentary information did circulate”.
However, it added that “a blend of certain institutional dynamics within L’Arche, the charismatic personality of Jean Vanier, the absence of a reliable mechanism allowing victims to be heard, and the shortcomings or errors of the ecclesiastical institution, made possible decades of silence. L’Arche recognises its responsibility for not having been able to prevent, identify or report these abuses, and therefore for not having been able to prevent them.”
Mr Vanier, an apparently devout Catholic, died in 2019. One month later, in June 2019, L’Arche announced it had “commissioned an external organisation to conduct a thorough and independent inquiry that will allow us to better understand our history”.
Its report, published in February 2020, found that Mr Vanier was implicated in the sexual abuse of six women but that this did not involve women with intellectual disabilities. The abuse continued into the 2000s. L’Arche then decided to set up a study commission “to better understand Jean Vanier’s life orientation, the founding history of L’Arche and the institutional dynamics at work within the organisation”.
Mr Vanier founded L’Arche near Paris in 1964 to look after people with learning difficulties. Named after the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, it has more than 10,000 members in 149 communities in 39 countries worldwide. Since 1978 it has developed four communities in Ireland, at Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Kilkenny.
In 1971, Mr Vanier also founded the interdenominational Faith and Light to help people with learning difficulties. It has more than 1,600 such communities in 80 countries, including 23 on the island of Ireland.
In 2015, he was awarded the £1.1 million (€1.3 million) Templeton prize, for making “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension”.
Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. firstname.lastname@example.org