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By Griffith College
By Griffith College
UK News

Ireland's former President threatens to leave Catholicism over Jean Vanier abuse scandal

by Heather Preston

The former President of Ireland has written to the Vatican calling for answers following allegations that the founder of a disabilities charity sexually abused women.

Mary McAleese, who was President from 1997 to 2011, has threatened to leave the Catholic Church if it emerges that the Holy See failed to protect members of the L'Arche community.

L'Arche, a charity that integrated people with and without disabilities across 38 countries, was founded by the late Jean Vanier in 1964.

An independent inquiry was launched just before the end of Vanier's life in March 2019 following allegations of sexual misconduct. 

The results of the investigation were published by L'Arche International in February 2020 and claimed Vanier abused at least six women between the years of 1970 and 2005, stating that none of the alleged victims were disabled.

L'Arche International released a statement condemning its founder's actions in light of the report's findings.

"We are shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier claimed and are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L'Arche is based.

"Because these events took place in the context of L'Arche and some were brought about by our founder; to all of you, we ask forgiveness".

Dr McAleese, a Fianna Fáil politician, who previously credited Vanier as an exemplary figure within the Catholic faith said she was "devastated" to learn of Vanier's "abusive conduct" and raised concerns of reports that the Holy See had been aware of his "malevolent proclivities" since the 1950's.

In her letter to Pope Francis, McAleese urged the Vatican to ensure the matter is dealt with "as openly, courageously and honestly as L'Arche dealt with the investigation into its founder.

"L'Arche will learn from this, but will the Holy See?"

McAleese asked the Pope to clarify the role the Vatican had played in the scandal, writing: "It is essential that the Holy See now explains how it came to so publicly commend a man whose predatory proclivities it was aware of. What steps, if any, did the Holy See take to interrupt the growth of the powerful cult of Vanier?

"If however it transpires that the Holy See failed to act to protect members of the L'Arche community by alerting them to the known predatory activities of Vanier and Philippe I have to say that this will be my final line of least resistance.

"I could not in conscience continue to support an institution capable of such gross negligence."

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