By now you have heard of the troubling, sad and shocking reports from the investigation into acts performed by Jean Vanier between 1990 and 2005. While this has deeply saddened our entire Faith and Light community across the world we cannot deny the incredible impact this man has had on our lives. Therefore this page will remain on the website, although in the background, with links to a full accounting of the report and the most notable Faith and Light community responses. If you feel inclined I encourage your comments concerning this page.
This site has the initial announcement from L'Arche of the findings of the Independent Inquiry. A link at the bottom of the letter will take you to the Summary Report, but there are also links to letters from L'Arche put out in June 2019, July 2019, and a final letter after the findings were released in February 2020, as well as an event timeline.
March 2, 2020
Like many others, I was deeply distressed to learn of the recent revelations concerning Jean Vanier. He was a person whom I much admired and about whom, on numerous occasions, I have written glowingly. So, the news about him shook me deeply. What’s to be said about Jean Vanier in the light of these revelations?
First, that what he did was very wrong and deeply harmful, not least to the women he victimized. Without knowing the specifics of what happened (and without wanting to know them) enough is known to know that this was serious abuse of trust. No cloak of justification can be placed around it.
Second, what he did may not be linked to or identified with clerical sexual abuse. Vanier was not a cleric, nor indeed a canonically vowed religious. He was a layman, a public celibate admittedly, but his betrayal of his commitment to celibacy may not be identified with the clerical sexual abuse. He broke the sixth commandment, albeit in a way that merits a harsh judgment, given his public stature and the abuse of a particular kind of sacred trust. However, his breaking of his professed celibacy doesn’t put into question the legitimacy and fruitfulness of vowed celibacy itself, any more than a married man being unfaithful to his wife puts into question the legitimacy and fruitfulness of the vocation of marriage.
Third, Vanier’s transgressions do not negate the good work of L’Arche nor cast any negative shadow on the dedication and good work of the many women and men who work there and who have worked there. By their fruits you shall know them! Jesus taught that and no one, no one, can deny or question the good work that L’Arche has done and continues to do in more than thirty countries. L’Archeis a work of God, of grace, of the Holy Spirit. It turns out now that its founder had some flaws. So be it. Jesus is the only founder who had no flaws. Indeed, the good work being done by L’Archeattests too to the fact that Vanier is and was bigger than his sins. Nobody who is essentially duplicitous can leave behind such a grace-filled legacy.
Finally, the disillusionment and anger we feel says as much about us as it says about Jean Vanier. In Luke’s Gospel, a young man comes up to Jesus and says to him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18.18-23) Jesus immediately challenges the way he is being addressed by saying: “Don’t call me good! Only God is good.” That was our mistake with Jean Vanier, just as it’s our mistake with other persons whom we cloak with divinity in an idealization that’s supposed to be reserved for God alone. And whenever we do that, and we did it to Jean Vanier, we cannot not ultimately be disappointed and disillusioned. Nobody, except God, does God well, all the rest of us eventually disappoint.
What Jean Vanier did to us was unfair. We cannot not feel betrayed by his betrayal. Conversely, though, what we did to him was also unfair. We asked him to be God for us and that’s also not a fair request.
When I was a twenty-one-year-old seminarian, searching for mentors, one of my seminary teachers came back from a Vanier retreat gushing with superlatives as he described Vanier as the “holiest, most-wonderful, most single-minded, spiritual man” he’d ever met. My critical faculties immediately put me on guard: “No one’s that good!” So, I deliberately didn’t look to Vanier for mentorship. However, in the fifty years since, I did look to him for mentorship. Though I never met him personally, I read his books, was much influenced by numerous persons who counted him as a formidable influence in their lives (including Henri Nouwen), I wrote a Preface for one of his last books, and wrote a glowing tribute to him for the newspapers when he died. So, I was also enough besotted by him so that now I too felt dismayed and disillusioned when I learned of his moral lapses.
However, disillusionment is curious phenomenon. After the initial shock, you soon enough realize it’s a positive thing. It’s the dispelling of an illusion, and an illusion is always in the mind of the one who doing the perceiving rather than on the part of the one being perceived. With Jean Vanier, the illusion was on our part, not his. There was, as we now know, a certain falsity in his life – but there was one on our part too.
Yes, the revelations about Jean Vanier shook me deeply, but not to my core because at our core, when we touch it, we know that no one, except God, is good, at least with a goodness that has no imperfections. Once we accept that, we can accept too that nobody’s perfect, even a Jean Vanier. At our core we can accept that, despite this betrayal, Jean Vanier did a lot of good and that L’Arche is clearly a graced reality.
February 28, 2020
This year Lent felt like it started last Saturday, not Ash Wednesday. I, like many of you, woke to the stomach-turning news that Jean Vanier used his power to manipulate and sexually assault 6 women over many decades.
I lived and worked at L’arche, the community Vanier started for people with and without disabilities as a Jesuit novice. I have said to anyone who asks that it was a time in my Jesuit formation I most clearly saw a glimpse of the Kingdom of God: where all are welcome, all are celebrated, where meals, tears, laughter, and affection are shared with ease and equal measure. Under the unassuming disguise of birthday cakes, kitchen dance parties, and chicken nuggets God’s dream for us is lived out.
I feel profound sadness for the victims and gratitude for their bravery in coming forward. How difficult it must have been to watch the world informally canonize a man who hurt you. L’arche grew from austere beginnings of three men living together in France to an international movement of hundreds of houses around the world. All the while Jean, the face of the organization, was teaching the world about compassion, human value, and tenderness. He was also hurting women.
How do we hold these complicated feelings together? The broken, sinful, and abusive nature of the founder and the beautiful, transformative, and holy foundation he created? Well, first we remember that it was never about the founder. The reason I and thousands of others love L’arche is because of the joy, honesty, goodness, and self-gift of the core members and assistants. The core members, those with intellectual and physical disabilities, have always been our greatest teachers on how to be human, not the founder.
Next, we need to be honest that we are all capable of goodness and evil. Do not mishear me, I am not conflating serial sexual abuse with minor slights and failings. What Vanier did was warped and in many ways, sinister. But he was also kind to people with intellectual disabilities when the rest of society discarded them, ignored them and locked them away. He offered those men and women a compassionate, non-institutional place to live based on the simple fact that they matter. (One of the hard things I’ve been wrestling with is why he didn’t have that same compassion towards his victims??) We too are capable of hurting those around us while also being generous parishioners, good students or loving parents. We contain multitudes. As St. Ignatius reminds us we are all “loved sinners”. If and when we forget either side of that phrase we can veer off course. Yesterday at an Ash Wednesday Mass Pope Francis reminded us “We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams, we are God’s hope, his treasure, and his glory.” We are loved sinners. We are dust, divine dust.
Finally, in the face of such terrible news, in an age of terrible news, we need to applaud the way L’arche International has handled these revelations. They can inspire the rest of us and illuminate the way we are to bring hard things to the light. L’arche International was transparent, forthcoming, thorough, remorseful and compassionate in their response. God’s saving work throughout history has happened in, with, and through broken individuals. God is still very much at work at L’arche. Even in their darkest days, they are showing us a way to do that.
So this Lent, may we work to tear down our false idols and false heroes. May we believe those who say they have been hurt in our lives. May we continue to uncover and dispel all that does not serve the Gospel and recover and refocus on all that does. As we continue the painful work of purification, may the heart of L’Arche be our balm and teach us the joy of patient, playful, and loving peace.
May 7, 2019
JEAN VANIER IS IN THE LIGHT OF GOD
Our hearts are deeply saddened to share with you that Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and co-founder of Faith and Light, passed away.
Jean passed away today at 2.10am in Paris surrounded by those closest to him.
Jean had a life of immense fruitfulness. He has marked the history of L'Arche and Faith and Light, as well as the personal history of so many of us. We want to give thanks for all this. Jean sent us out on a mission, we will do our best to meet his deep desire that the good news may be announced to the poor.
It was in his community of Trosly that Jean wanted the funeral ceremony to take place.
This ceremony will be held in the privacy of his community, his family and some representatives of the Federation of L’Arche and Faith and Light. All will receive a personal invitation. For each of you to be able to participate with his heart and prayers, the celebration will be recorded and broadcasted live.
A second message will be sent out to you soon giving more details about the events. You will also find them on the website JeanVanier.larche.org where you can share a message or a testimony.
In communion with each one of you, in sorrow and hope that Jean already rest in the arms of the Lord and “in the joyful company of his poor”.
Marie-Hélène Mathieu, Co-founder of Faith and Light
Hoda Elturk, President of the Board of Directors of Faith and Light
Raul Izquierdo Garcia, International Coordinator of Faith and Light
Corinne Chatain, General Secretary of Faith and Light
April 30, 2019
Message from Christine and Jean:
Over the Easter period a small delegation from the Community were able to see Jean. Christine Mc Grievy, Patrick and Anicette, two members with a disability from the Val Fleuri, Jean’s house for many years, as well as Alain and Nadine, two first generation assistants ; a visit that was good for everyone.
Jean’s health remains fragile and yet he is very present, as always kind and generous with the staff who care for him and those who accompany him”, says Christine. “When we celebrated his 90th birthday last September Jean talked about having found his home in L’Arche and I see how much all the cards and messages from the communities mean to him although too frail to reply. This last visit Jean wanted to send his own message:
“I give you my latest news that I'm dictating to Christine.
I am happy in a good hospital in France. I have been welcomed with love. I have a beautiful room and wonderful doctors and nurses. Odile is here to support me. I am happy.
My body is weak, I can't stand up and so I spend all my time in bed and do exercises for my legs. I still have difficulty speaking, but that may be resolved.
I am deeply peaceful and trustful. I'm not sure what the future will be but God is good and whatever happens it will be the best.
Thank you all for your wonderful letters, I read them all in thanksgiving.
I send to every one of you my deepest love. We are a wonderful family, we love each other so much and God is watching over us. So, thank you, every one of you.
My love to each one of you and thank you for your love and your prayers.
I am happy and give thanks for everything.
My deepest love to each one of you."
March 19, 2019
Dear friends, Jean finished his radiotherapy sessions, which he endured quite well. After several weeks in hospital, he left the hospital and is taking some rest in Paris in order to stay close to the medical services that follow him. He remains fragile (some days are better than others) but his morale is good. He is supported by Odile and several other people who assist him. When I saw him last week, he told me that he was living all this in trust ("day by day"). All our cards, wishes and prayers do him a lot of good. He is sorry that his great fatigue means that he cannot answer individually, he wanted to thank us all for it Please continue to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.
February 13, 2019
My dears, I need to share with you troubling news. Jean is not doing well. He is in the hospital in Paris. He has cancer of the thyroid gland. Because of the cancer, he is not able to swallow. Doctors are giving food through the stomach. But his body is hardly accepting this way. We all need to gather and pray. He needs to get food, and get stronger to be able to get the irradiation for cancer. The radiation will make cancer smaller and he will be able to breath normally.
Lets pray for Jean. Lets give our support through prayers so he doesn't feel alone in the hospital. He needs us, our prayers very much. All Faith and Light needs to be united now for Jean.
Ann Emmott, England
January 4, 2019
My dear brothers and sisters of L'Arche and Faith and Light, and all those with whom I am united by spirit and heart, I first wanted to say thank you for having accompanied me by prayer and your friendship in this intervention which has just taken place and which has gone well. It was during this operation that they took some of my thyroid and found that there was hidden cancer. I was strongly advised to do radiation therapy to prevent the cancer from growing further.
The doctors prescribed me about fifteen sessions. They explained to me all the side effects in the hope that I could find my life as before. I am aware that these side effects can be a little painful and I count on you to continue to accompany me in the descent towards fragility. I know that this is where I would discover our God of humility and meekness.
During all this period which could last two months I will stay in Paris in the apartment that l'Arche in France and a friend generously rented for me and I will be accompanied during this time always by Odile, Annick come from Belgium to help, and by Christine. During this time of weakening I will have very few visits but I know that you visit me by the prayer and your support. I especially wanted to say thank you for this accompaniment by the heart and the spirit. I will surely need your help during the most difficult times, but I feel happy to work as best I can so that the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, can grow on the earth with my offering.
I embrace you and remain in communion with you.
Yesterday, I went to Paris to visit Jean when he left the hospital. He was tired but happy not to be in the hospital anymore. If he was happy to leave, the people at the hospital were rather sad because he made connections with many people and did them good. His recovery will take time and for the moment, Jean remains in Paris supported by Odile and Annick. When I asked Jean if he had anything to tell us he asked that we pray for the people who are in the hospital because there is a lot of suffering on many levels in places. I go back to see him at the end of the week and it will be nice to be able to bring him drawings, cards that you have prepared for him.
Jean's operation went well. It takes more than a week to confirm the results. Jean is always very tired. Please keep praying, it is important for jean that we are together in prayer. Thank you for your patience.
Christine, community manager, Ark, Trosly
A Presentation of Jean's life and contributions in pictures.
Jean’s funeral was broadcast live on KTO TV on Thursday May 16, 2019. An English translation is available.