Following the distressing testimony given by a victim of Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe that has been broadcast over the past few days, the Brothers of Saint John first would like to ask forgiveness once again of all of the victims of Fr Phillipe.
The Brothers of Saint John condemn every occasion of sexual abuse and abuse of power, and reaffirm their commitment, in communion with Pope Francis, to fight against abuse. They are aware that their community’s 45 year history is sadly marked by the sexual abuse committed by their founder – which the Prior General made public on his own initiative in 2013 – and that of other brothers in the community, as well as by errors in dealing with cases of sexual abuse in the past, notably through insufficient acknowledgment of the victims’ suffering, insufficient formation for the brothers and insufficient procedures to deal with such situations.
There is no possibility that the mismanagement of the past could take place today, and this has been the case for a number of years now. Every case of abuse that is raised with us is treated in conformity with civil and ecclesiastical law.
We understand that the victims may continue to be angry with our community. In a letter addressed to all the brothers on 20 February, 2019,1 to update them on the sad issue of abuse, the Prior General wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness of the victims who feel they were not sufficiently listened to and / or accompanied (…). I want to apologise to the victims of our founder and to the victims of our brothers.”
Important work has been undertaken with courage and determination for several years now by the government of the Brothers of Saint John, to ensure that the errors and faults of the past are not repeated. On 18 February, 2019, the Vatican addressed a letter1 to the Prior General: “acknowledging the work that has been undertaken, [the Dicastery] wants to encourage the Brothers and Sisters of Saint John to continue along this path, humbly and with courage, confidence and determination.”
In his letter to the brothers on 20 February, 2019, the Prior General said: “To combat multiple cases of abuse, and the internal culture that made them more easily possible, we have had to work on at least four domains: 1) formation of the brothers; 2) making sure victims are listened to immediately; 3) treating reported cases seriously and quickly; 4) accompanying victims of abuse and truly helping them.” Indeed, for several years now a number of measures have been put in place with respect to discernment of new members of the community, the brothers’ initial and continued formation in issues relating to affectivity and sexuality, the prevention of pedophilia, spiritual accompaniment and procedures to be taken if accusations are made against a brother. Most notably, in 2015 a commission was created that includes two laypeople (one of whom is a psychologist) and that works in full collaboration with Rome and with the civil authorities. For all of these measures we call in competent persons from outside the community.
We reiterate that any person can contact the SOS commission on abuse directly by email at the following address: email@example.com or the helpline of the Conference of the Bishops of France: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our efforts to correct what needs to be corrected is also motivated by the desire that the good done by the 50 or so priories of the Brothers of Saint John over 5 continents will not be completely eclipsed. It is indeed our hope that the life of the majority of the brothers, who dedicate their lives to God and their fellow man, continues to be a sign of hope in the world.
The Prior General concluded his letter to the brothers on 20 February by saying: “Given the strength of the Johannine charism we have received, the fraternity that has continued to surprise me during our recent Vicariate Chapters, all the trials we have been through together and all the work accomplished, I am convinced that Cardinal Braz des Aviz [Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life at the Vatican], in his letter of June 2016, had good reason to say: “The prospect of young people being called to religious life in your Family of Saint John is a good both for them and for the Church.” The work we have begun together will certainly bear fruit for our community in the foreseeable future, even if it is in tears that we must sow.”
1 Letters are available on the website: https://brothers-saint-john.org/who-we-are/our-history/key-moments/
Frères de Saint-Jean
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