“Jean Vanier lied to us”

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The independent commission solicited by L’Arche in France and L’Arche international submits its report which confirms the deviant actions of your founder, Jean Vanier. How do you receive this information?

Pierre Jacquand: We do not come out unscathed from reading the report which reactivates the deep emotion of 2020, during the first revelations.

I can only repeat that we are thinking first of all of the women victims. Once again, L’Arche strongly condemns the actions of Jean Vanier, which are in total contradiction with the values ​​of L’Arche and the principles of our community life.

The report confirms that there is no indication that people with disabilities were victims of these acts. And this “sectarian core” has not proliferated within L’Arche, which is essential. I would like to add that L’Arche is not limited to its origins, but finds its raison d’être in ordinary life shared with people with disabilities.

Why did you make this report public?

PC: I feel a sense of betrayal. The report shows that Jean lied to us. The one I discover in the report is not the Jean Vanier that I knew and rubbed shoulders with. This is why we want to tell the truth, in complete transparency. If, in 1952, when Father Thomas Philippe was condemned, the affair had been made public, the story would have been quite different… But perhaps L’Arche would not have existed.

What can you say more specifically to the victims?

PC: As in 2020, we apologize to the victims, of course. Because we feel committed. The institutional responsibility of L’Arche is engaged for not having been able to prevent, identify, report, protect and put an end to the serious acts committed by Jean Vanier who abused our trust. To support the victims, L’Arche has joined the Commission for Recognition and Reparation (CRR) to allow a path of restorative justice for the victims.

By creating L’Arche, did Jean Vanier want to somehow “redeem himself from his sin”?

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PC: Jean Vanier has undoubtedly benefited thousands of people. Nor can it be disputed that, very early on and right up to his deathbed, he believed in and implemented the delirious theories of Father Thomas Philippe. We would have liked him to have a split personality, but the deviant practices to which he adhered deeply structured him. No one knows what happened up there…

The report reveals that Jean Vanier always wanted to be a priest: does this attachment to the Catholic Church mark L’Arche?

PC: Jean Vanier was respectful of the Church and at the same time transgressed the very principles of the Catholic faith… That said, it is an opportunity to look afresh at the link of L’Arche with the Church which remains relevant: l he Gospel is at the heart of L’Arche but L’Arche is not an ecclesial movement. We need the Church to enable people with disabilities to nourish their spiritual life and live the sacraments, but in reciprocal freedom.

Could the governance of L’Arche have been contaminated by the exercise of authority according to Jean Vanier?

PC: Today, we are not members of L’Arche because of Jean Vanier. We are called to a fulfilling life that resonates with the gospel. If there is an inventory to be made, Jean Vanier can no longer be the only reference. The report obliges us to a critical reading, to take this matter into account in order to revisit the exercise of authority, the methods of support. It is necessary to take into account the evolutions: if he was able to exercise a charismatic authority like a shepherd for his flock, this does not correspond to L’Arche today. Unifying our existence goes through the articulation without confusion of the different specific registers of a professional, community and spiritual commitment.

What lessons can you, despite everything, draw from this dossier and from the history of L’Arche?

PC: L’Arche does not belong to a few leaders. It’s everyone’s business. We can still progress with the concern for a co-construction of projects, more horizontality, by involving more people with disabilities to accommodate reality and what is lived in the community. Independently of the report, we have been working for several years around semantic questions: we are now talking about “shared life” instead of “community life”. Young people, for example, are ready to share a part of the journey with L’Arche whereas around 1968 it was more a question of being totally committed. We are looking for new words for the experience still intact but in an expression more in tune with today’s society.

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