Georgetown University Campus Ministry removed the name of the former Jean Vanier Cabin at the Calcagnini Contemplative Center because of an independent inquiry released Feb. 22 that confirmed multiple allegations of sexual and emotional abuse by the cabin’s namesake.
The cabin was originally named after Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche International, a worldwide organization established in 1964 to support adults with intellectual disabilities. Vanier’s alleged abuses began shortly after the founding of L’Arche, taking place between 1970 and 2005 in France, according to an email sent by Director of Campus Ministry Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., to all students who have attended a retreat at the CCC.
L’Arche employed GCPS Consulting, a U.K.-based group with expertise in the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, to begin an independent inquiry after Vanier’s death in May 2019. L’Arche’s decision to start the inquiry was based on an allegation against Vanier in 2016, which was thoroughly investigated and acknowledged by Vanier, and a similar allegation in March 2019, according to a summary report of the inquiries findings. The inquiry team received six total allegations from alleged victims and directly interviewed five of them, according to the report.
The university takes the findings of this report seriously and does not support any forms of sexual abuse or covering up of sexual abuse, according to Schenden.
“The news that Jean Vanier engaged in manipulative sexual relationships and emotional abuse with women between 1970 and 2005 is horrifying,” Schenden wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We strongly condemn all acts of sexual abuse and the complicity of covering up of sexual abuse in all forms. We praise those survivors who came forward to report their experiences.”
The inquiry also found that Vanier was aware that Fr. Thomas Philippe, his spiritual director, had emotionally and sexually abused several women beginning in the 1950s, according to the summary report. While Philippe was officially sanctioned by the church in 1956, Vanier repeatedly claimed he was not aware of Philippe’s behavior, releasing two public statements of denial in 2015 and 2016, according to the report.
Vanier’s choice to defend Philippe implicates Vanier in both sexual abuse and a cover-up, according to Schenden’s email to all students who have attended a retreat at the CCC.
“Some of these survivors confided in Jean Vanier, but he dismissed their pain and suffering and did not report their allegations,” the email read. “Thus Jean Vanier was also complicit in covering up Philippe’s abuse.”
L’Arche is deeply upset by the findings of the report and is currently undergoing a systematic review of their safeguarding policies and procedures, including setting up a Safeguarding Commission to ensure such abuses do not happen again, according to L’Arche Director of External Affairs Theo Latiolais.
“We are stunned and saddened by this news,” Latiolais wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are processing and grieving and remain committed to ensuring the safety of all our members.”
The CCC has been used for Campus Ministry retreats, department meetings and other university retreats, including the ESCAPE program, since its opening in 2013. In addition to naming a cabin at the CCC after Vanier, who was previously considered an international humanitarian and spiritual leader, Georgetown also invited Vanier to speak about compassion and his communities for the disabled in Gaston Hall in 2002.
L’Arche’s mission of bringing people with and without intellectual disabilities together is one of the reasons Georgetown has supported the organization. Georgetown should continue to support the organization while also recognizing Vanier’s wrongful actions, according to Libbie Rifkin, professor and director of the disability studies minor.
“I think L’Arche’s mission is great and right in line with Georgetown’s commitment to caring for the whole person,” Rifkin said in an interview with The Hoya. “I think it would be important for us to continue to support the organization as it does good work while being extremely critical of and rejecting Jean Vanier’s personal behavior.”
Campus Ministry plans to host a conversation around the renaming of the cabin at a later time, according to Schenden’s email to all students who have attended a retreat at the CCC.
Campus Ministry urges those who are affected to seek out resources on campus to help process the news, according to Schenden.
“We acknowledge that this news is deeply painful,” Schenden wrote. “The chaplains and staff of Campus Ministry are available to those affected, as are other university resources.”