“I discover with gravity and indignation the deviance of the Philippe brothers”

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The cross : The independent commission headed by Tangi Cavalin is making its report public this Monday, January 30. Provincial of France of the Dominicans, you commissioned this work. What do you remember?

Brother Nicolas Tixier: I had asked for this work three years ago in the context of revelations and a clearer awareness of the excesses of the brothers Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe, in particular thanks to the documentary broadcast by Arte in the spring of 2019.

I wanted the mandated commission to be completely independent and I only intervened to facilitate access for historians to documentary sources and institutional archives, both of the Dominican order and in ecclesial institutions. I discovered the report these days, and in accordance with the commitment made, it will be published as is in the coming days (1).

What did you learn from reading the 700-page report?

Fr. NT: I am devasted. I discover with great gravity and indignation how far the deviance of the Philippe brothers has gone and my first thought goes to the victims. It is a tragedy and there is something irreparable for them, but we at least owe them this truth, however difficult it may be. I would like the victims to know that they can always come forward, by order of the Dominicans or with the Recognition and Reparation Commission (CRR).

What does the report of the behavior of the Philippe brothers reveal within the Dominican order?

Fr. NT: The Philippe brothers were extremely good at thwarting institutions, ensuring that the relevant level of control did not apply. By addressing themselves to “higher”, for example, or by distancing themselves from the order to which they belonged, they notably escaped community life. And this reveals a real failure of the institution, not by active complicity but by negligence. For decades bad decisions or non-decisions have accumulated.

We can also note a kind of “privatization” of certain aspects of Dominican life by this influential family which played on its reputation to allow both of them to prosper in their projects, whether Thomas with L’ Eau vive or Marie-Dominique with the Brothers of Saint-Jean.

The two brothers seem to be complicit in these deviations. How do you analyze their links?

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Fr. NT: What is frightening is both this common deviance and the shared doctrinal deviation to the point that some women may have been victims of the two brothers. Then they have different stories, Thomas Philippe had to fight for a gradual rehabilitation after his condemnation by Rome in 1956, while Marie-Dominique Philippe managed to be at the head of the new institute of the Brothers of Saint John while remaining Dominican, which is an aberration in canon law. As a result, he escaped all authority.

How to reread this story that spans many years?

Fr. NT: One of the main lessons of this report is memory loss. The only actor who truly has a deep and constant awareness of the seriousness of the acts committed in the 1950s is Cardinal Paul Philippe (Editor’s note: a namesake who has no family ties with the Philippe brothers). He opposed the rehabilitation of Thomas Philippe for a long time, as well as the ordination of Jean Vanier for that matter.

But there was no permanent attention from the institution which would have made it possible to be effective over time. Little by little and under the pressure of the entourage of the Philippe brothers, the seriousness of the facts fades and we take inconsequential decisions.

Can we learn from this for today, while some brothers still today have very personal and sometimes out of control commitments?

Fr. NT: When I presented the report to my brothers these days, I told them that I saw in it a roadmap for governance in order. In our country, but also in the Church, struggles for influence disturb an objective reading of the actions and commitments of each other. The Church is fascinated by what “works”, to the point of neglecting the necessary stages of validation. However, the charisma of one or the other, the fruits obtained are not enough to exempt from any control. The scandals that we are experiencing today in the Church are linked to what seemed to bear fruit during the last decades, and yet… The virtue of prudence must always apply.

From the two Dominicans were born works such as l’Arche and the Brothers of Saint John. How do you associate them with this work?

Fr. NT: I am concerned as a Dominican by what two of my brothers, Thomas and Marie-Dominique Philippe, were able to do. And I feel concerned by this work of truth that the brothers of Saint-Jean pursue, in particular and in the first place for the victims. Whether the Ark was saved is a mystery: we know that good and evil can be intertwined. And men who have done good have also done harm. L’Arche remains a very beautiful work and a true evangelical witness.

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