Former Irish president Mary McAleese has demanded the Vatican be held to account over the abuse committed by the ‘saint’ of the disabled Jean Vanier, recently revealed to have sexually and spiritually assaulted at least six women.

– After the L’Arche investigation, “spotlight moves to the Holy See”

In a letter to the Pope covered by The Tablet, McAleese warned that after the results of an independent inquiry carried out for L’Arche – the organisation for people with intellectual disabilities that Vanier founded in 1964 – revealed it had received “credible and consistent testimonies” from victims of Vanier, the focus is now squarely on the Vatican.

Referring also to the abusive activities of Vanier’s mentor Fr. Thomas Phillippe, McAleese – one of Ireland’s most visible and most respected Catholics – warned Francis:

“Now that both Philippe and Vanier have been unmasked the spotlight moves to the Holy See.

“What did it know and when and what did it do to prevent Vanier and Philippe living their grand lie?

“What did it do or not do which allowed Vanier to grow into the uncontested legend of folk saint and icon, a reputation which must have made it so very difficult for victims to come forward?”

– “L’Arche will learn from this but will the Holy See?”

“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”, the former Irish president continued in her letter.

“What steps if any did the Holy See take to interrupt the growth of the powerful cult of Vanier by warning the many good men and women who trusted him in good faith that he had an alarming past?”

McAleese was referring there to Vatican censures against Philippe in place as early as the 1950s.

But she was also alluding to Pope Francis’ glowing endorsement of Vanier just days after the L’Arche founder passed away in May 2019, when the pontiff expressed his “gratitude for [Vanier’s] testimony” with the disabled and gave thanks to God “for having given us a man of such great witness”.

McAleese expressed her conviction that L’Arche’s credibility will recover from the scandal around its founder, thanks to the “great work” it does with some 10,000 handicapped people in some 39 countries and thanks to “its own integrity which is more than capable of transcending the Vanier betrayal”.

But she added: “I am not so sure about whether trust in the Holy See will recover so easily”.

That’s why the Trinity College Dublin Chancellor urged Pope Francis to ensure the Vanier scandal and its possible ramifications at Vatican level “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 questioned the pontiff.

– Vatican implication in the abuse, “my final line of least resistance”

In her letter to the Pope, McAleese gave voice to the feelings of thousands of Catholics around the world who admired Vanier when she admitted that the revelations about the L’Arche founder had been personally “devastating”.

But she added that, even more damaging than the Vanier revelations in themselves would be the fact that the Vatican was complicit in “this appalling affair”.

“If… 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”, McAleese warned, meaning by that statement that she would leave the Church if Rome were found to be implicated in Vanier and Philippe’s abuse.

“I could not in conscience continue to support an institution capable of such gross negligence”, the former Irish president cautioned.

Next on Novena:

“Devastating”: Catholic ‘saint’ of the disabled accused of sex abuse of women

Former Irish president decries “invisibility and powerlessness” of women in Church

Theologians accuse former Irish president of misquoting John Paul II on Church “rape” of women

Former Irish president claps back at critics, insists John Paul II “rape” quote accurate


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.