L’Arche is not dependent on Jean Vanier

L’Arche Anne-Marie Pike

Over the weekend, I read the almost 900-page report of the Investigation which L’Arche had mandated to investigate the allegations of abuse of Jean Vanier and Thomas Philippe.

I am impressed by the courage of L’Arche International in mandating this report and in the expertise, and thorough investigation carried out by the people who made up the Commission group.

Jean Vanier and his writings have played a central part in my life and spirituality for over 40 years.

I have been involved in Faith and Light in local, national and international roles, and in 1989 my husband Roger and I founded the Marralomeda Community, which is based very much on the philosophy of L’Arche.

Many emotions came to the surface as I read the report.

It was different from the initial shock I experienced when I first heard the news of the abuse in 2020.

At that time, I felt shock, anger and deep grief as the image of the person I thought I knew crumbled.…

I was betrayed.

This time I was disturbed by the extent of the abuse and the lack of Jean’s insight and remorse for the damage that had been inflicted on the women concerned. Also, the lies that he told in 2016 about his lack of knowledge and shock at hearing of Thomas Philippe’s abuse of women when he was engaging in the same practices himself.

Those things were very hard for me to come to terms with.

It went against everything I believed about this man who, through his writing and retreats, I regarded as a mentor.

I am not one to put people on a pedestal as I know we are all human, with all the gifts and frailties that go with that condition, but I  believed that through his chosen life of prayer and living with people with intellectual disabilities he had wisdom and insights that I could rely on.

When I first heard him speak about L’Arche in the Christchurch Cathedral on a very cold night in May 1977, the trajectory of my life changed.

A call from God stirred in me that night, and over the years, Roger and I have been involved in Faith and Light.

Central to my life ever since has been reading the writings of Jean.


What to make of it all?

At times as I read the report I wanted to stop and not read any more… but I knew that I had to face the reality of all that it contained and then entrust the pain to God.

I also asked myself, “what are the learnings from this?”

The grief re-emerged, and I found myself shedding tears again.

I know that eventually, as I sit with it all and bring it to prayer, God will heal and teach me what I need to know.

However, at the moment, I know L’Arche and Faith and Light are not dependent on Jean Vanier.

He was certainly an important part (with others) of the foundation stories. But today in L’Arche and Faith and Light there are thousands of people around the world living lives that have as a mission to spread the realm of God; their special charism is to build community with people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Each organization has a vision, a charter and a constitution and good people in leadership at a variety of levels….. each striving to bring the kingdom of God to their corner of our world.

And isn’t this what Jesus asked us to do?

I hold those in leadership (especially those who, like myself, had strong connections to Jean) in prayer as they attempt to hold the vision while managing their personal feelings.

So although I am saddened and perplexed by all that I have read.

I am also hopeful because we are involved in God’s work in our world and that is where our strength and way forward must come from….listening to the murmur of the Holy Spirit deep within each of us, being open to where that takes us as we live the vocation of our organizations as outlined in our charters and vision statements.

We are held in the palm of God’s hand.

  • Anne-Marie Pike.
  • Marralomeda is a Christian community where people with and without a learning disability share life together. Twenty-Two people with a learning disability live in five homes in Redwood with those who support them. Through ordinary daily activities, the community supports each other and enables the unique gift of each person to be recognised and celebrated.
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