Over the last few days, I have felt a need to share publicly about my current thoughts and feelings and so have turned to this long-forgotten blog as a way to do this. Please know that this reflection comes at a time where I am processing information that is difficult to talk about and heartbreaking to me on a personal level.
On Saturday I, along with the rest of the world, learned the results of L’Arche International’s inquiry into Jean Vanier through a letter that was shared by L’Arche USA’s national leader, Tina Bovermann. That letter can be found here.
Since then I have also watched the following interview with L’Arche International’s leader Stephan Posner. This interview is in French but English subtitles are available.
This news has been utterly heartbreaking.
Jean Vanier is one of the founders of L’Arche, the community that has changed my life and the life of thousands around the world. L’Arche is my family and since I joined the L’Arche GWDC community in 2015 Jean Vanier had become someone whose words and teachings I looked to for wisdom. To learn that this person who has had such a tremendous impact on the formation and beliefs at the heart of L’Arche not only lied about his knowledge of sexual abuse that had been perpetrated but also used his power and influence to abuse women who sought spiritual accompaniment from him has been a gut-wrenching experience. Reconciling what was believed to be true about Jean Vanier and the revelations from this inquiry will take more than a few days of reflection.
As I process this information I have been going through the various stages of grief… shock, denial, anger, sadness… but mostly a mix of anger and sadness. Anger that core principles and values of L’Arche like vulnerability and accompaniment were weaponized to manipulate and cause harm. Anger that the idea of loving each other as we are despite our common brokenness might have been used to excuse inexcusable behavior. Sadness that these women had to endure this abuse. Sadness that L’Arche’s trust in Jean Vanier was misplaced. I anticipate that I will continue to feel a variety of things over the coming weeks and months, perhaps even years of reflection.
In this, however, there have been reminders that hope remains. I have found hope in this article about how one community used L’Arche’s understanding of how to hold one another in times of death and grief to share the news with the community so that the community could turn to one another and support each other in processing the information together. But most of all I have found hope in a reflection that was shared by my friend from L’Arche GWDC, Alice Felker. Her words are as follows.
“Jean Vanier used to be a personal hero of mine. The founding story of L’Arche was one of the most impactful stories of my life. When news broke of Jean’s despicable behavior, I originally didn’t know how to simultaneously hold the story and community I love and this terrible discovery about its author and founder.
“But then I was reminded, as I often am in L’Arche, that the story was never really Jean’s. The story at its heart always belonged to our core members (people with disabilities).
“It is often said that on one of the first nights in L’Arche, the power went out in the house. Assistants (people without disabilities) could not figure out how to turn on the lights. One of the founding core members taught them how to flip the breaker, restoring light to the home.
“L’Arche was never meant to be led by assistants, or the founder: it was meant to be led by core members, who have always been at the heart of our communities around the world.
“This is a time where the light in L’Arche homes will once again be turned on by our true founders. Core members will lead us in praying for the courageous women who shared their stories (many core members in DC/VA have already done so), in sharing love and support with them, and in healing our communities. Core members will teach us how to form better, safer L’Arche homes. Core members will guide our new, authentic and honorable, stories of togetherness and mutuality.
“I trust our core members to guide us through this disillusionment—I have immeasurable and unshakeable hope in them, and I am honored to follow their lead, alongside many assistants and community members around the world, today and everyday.”
I find hope in this call to look to the core family members in L’Arche for guidance, and I too am honored to follow their lead. I am reminded of a time that my friend Deb and I planned an afternoon trip to Tryst (a favorite coffee shop in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC) for tea, but Deb decided on the way there that we should actually go to the McDonald’s because we would be able to get much more sweet tea for our money. In this time of uncertainty, I have faith, that while we may not go where we expect, that our core members will lead us to the place where we need to be.
Lots of Love, Mandi Jo