Irish schoolbook Alive-O promoted Catholic theologian Jean Vanier who sexually abused women

Katie Levine of Atheist Ireland told RTE’s Liveline this week the name of the Irish schoolbook that promoted Catholic theologian and sex abuser Jean Vanier to children. TD Cathal Crowe had recalled the book the previous day but had not named it. It was Alive-O, a Catholic religion book that has since been replaced by Grow In Love. Katie called for the book to be removed from school libraries.

Vanier sexually abused at least twenty-five vulnerable women while being considered a “living saint” up until his death in 2019. He co-founded L’Arche, a network of communities for people with and without disabilities, including in Ireland. He began abusing women in France in the early 1950s, telling them he was Jesus loving them through Vanier’s body, and transubstantiating their bodies into that of Mary as a Sacrament.

The report that exposed Vanier’s abuse says that understanding the way he exercised authority at L’Arche is crucial. he had a prophetic character, was seen as a confident and confirming guide, and had the wisdom and lucidity of the founder-leader of the community.

His victims were all adult women, without disabilities, Christians, mostly Catholics, with high cultural resources. Half of them came from privileged social backgrounds. Most were young adults (20-35 years old), single, married or having taken religious vows. All were involved in an active spiritual quest at the time of the abuse.

Vanier’s spiritual master and co-founder of L’Arche was Dominican priest Thomas Philippe. He sexually abused nuns since the late 1930s. Philippe’s brother, Marie-Dominique Philippe, also a priest, also abused nuns. His sister, Mother Cecile Philippe, pushed nuns to him and had an incestuous relationship with him.

One of Thomas Philippe’s victims wrote that: “The Father never used violence with me. I always acted with complete freedom, at least outwardly, because internally I was bound by the fear of displeasing the Blessed Virgin by refusing, as he always repeated to me, and also by a vow of obedience”.

Phillipe said he had a vision in which Jesus and Mary were supposed to have had mystical-sexual relations after the resurrection. A nun abused in the early 1950s testified that he argued that caresses had the function of transubstantiating her female body into that of Mary, thus assimilating these sexual exchanges to a sacrament.

Jean Vanier used similar arguments, telling his victims “It’s not us, it’s Mary and Jesus”. One victim said she did not understand how she could express her love, as a consecrated person, both to Jesus and to him. He answered each time: “But Jesus and I are not two, we are one’, and: ‘It is Jesus who loves you through me’.”

The report examines the question of the nuns’ “apparent consent”. It concludes the loss of benchmarks and the feeling of confusion are signals indicating the existence of a possibly abusive situation. The testimonies revealed the disorder, the incomprehension, and even the overwhelming disarray experienced by these women.

The report says all the stories of people caught in an abusive or transgressive relationship also mention trust in the abuser, reinforced by the certainty of his charisma. If the victim gives in, it is first of all because she believes that the words, actions and intentions of the interlocutor-abuser are good, despite her feeling of confusion.

The report says that due to the weight of shame and guilt, the fear of appearing disloyal to L’Arche and its founders, and above all the fear of not being believed, reporting the abuse was difficult, especially since it concerns people whose notoriety and aura were very strong.

As Joe Duffy put it when discussing the item on Liveline this week: “He was encouraging people to take a vow of celibacy, and he was abusing them at night-time… Is there any Catholic institution that has not been sullied at this stage?”


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