‘Spiritualised’ abuse revealed in Brothers of St John report

The Tablet [Market Harborough, England]

July 4, 2023

By Tom Heneghan

Marie-Dominique Philippe was so revered that the community accepted his claim that his abuse was a spiritual gift.

The Brothers of St John have published a scathing report on sexual and spiritual abuse in its ranks, implicating its founder Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe OP of exploiting members under the guise of spiritual development.

The 800-page report, “To Understand and to Heal”, was commissioned by the general chapter in 2019, and covers the past 35 years. Of the 872 professed brothers in that time, 72 were abusers while 167 members of the community were victims. 

Most victims were adult women, many of them nuns, and abuse ranged from “solicitations to rape”. The report uses testimonies from victims and hitherto unknown archives.

One of its key findings is that Philippe was so revered that the community accepted his claim that his abuse was a spiritual gift that must be hidden not to “cast pearls before swine”.

He told victims that “spiritual life assumes sensual love”. He apparently had a sexual relationship with his devotee Sr Alix Parmentier, a prioress general of the St John sisters who herself abused several brothers with similar arguments, the report said.

Both Philippe and Parmentier were considered “saints” by the community. Abused brothers often went on to abuse other female members of the community with these same arguments. Philippe also helped conceal the Vatican’s 1956 denunciation of his brother Fr Thomas Philippe, a collaborator of Jean Vanier.

Philippe’s teaching, dissected in the report, distorted the philosophy of Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas to justify his abuse. This erased moral limits to the point that the community no longer knew how much it overstepped them, the report said.

“The trauma of this revelation has destabilised many brothers who have difficulty integrating this reality into the history of their vocation,” said psychotherapist Dominique Struyf.

Such thinking “needs to be thoroughly critiqued”, Prior General François-Xavier Cazali told La Croix

The report follows the official renunciation of Philippe in 2019, when the Brothers of St John – who have 40 priories in 21 countries – said they “no longer consider him as a master of spiritual life” and pledged to revise their rules without reference to their founder. They removed pictures of Philippe from their houses and stopped selling his books and promoting their study.