27 February 2020, The Tablet

Jean Vanier: The truth that breaks your heart


Jean Vanier: The truth that breaks your heart

Jean Vanier on a visit to a L’Arche community

 

When she learnt that an inquiry commissioned by L’Arche had found that the movement’s founder, Jean Vanier, had engaged in manipulative sexual relationships with several women, a writer and editor who had known Vanier for nearly thirty years was devastated

It is some weeks now since I was warned that serious allegations of sexual misconduct had been brought against Jean Vanier. They came, I was then told, from two women, both of whom – I was told – had come forward after Jean’s death. Privately, and to my shame, I scoffed. With Jean no longer around to defend himself, what weight could these allegations hold? And anyway, who could believe that this saintly, gentle man, who had transformed the lives of thousands, could possibly have been an abuser?

I first met Jean Vanier in 1992, in the village of Trosly-Breuil, on the edge of the Forest of Compiègne. Just a short walk through the forest was the railway carriage in which, in June 1940, Hitler had witnessed the French sign their surrender to Germany – the same railway carriage in which a defeated Germany had signed an armistice in 1918 to end the Great War. There is film footage of the vengeful Führer hopping about with glee at seeing his enemies brought low. By contrast, Trosly-Breuil was a place of peace. Here, in 1964, Jean Vanier had founded L’Arche, where men and women with mental disabilities lived and worked alongside “normal” assistants. From small beginnings, L’Arche grew. There are now communities all over the world.

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