An English bishop has stepped in to praise a religious community following the disclosure last month that its French founder did not live a chaste life.
Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood said the Community of St John had been a “great blessing” to his diocese, looking after a parish of 1,500 people.
His intervention comes after members of the community were told that the founder, Fr Marie-Dominique Philippe, who died in 2006, had acted in an unchaste way – “without sexual union” – towards adult women he was accompanying.
But Bishop McMahon said that despite revelations about its founder the community did “good work” and was “flourishing”.
He said: “Obviously it’s a matter of sadness whenever someone falls short of what we’re called to be. There is the wonderful analogy by St Paul, that when one member suffers the whole body suffers. But the good work Fr Philippe founded … has flourished.”
Bishop McMahon said he had invited the community to his diocese after learning they had inspired vocations in England and visiting them in France.
Six brothers are now in charge at St Antony of Padua church in Forest Gate, north-east London, combining a monastic and apostolic life and giving retreats. The community, founded in 1975, is composed of 550 brothers and 400 apostolic and contemplative sisters. They are known as the “little greys” because of their grey habits.
Fr Thomas Joachim, the community’s prior general, broke the news about the founder in a letter to brothers.
He said the claims about Fr Philippe came from “a certain number of testimonies, converging and judged credible by those who had access to them”. In an interview with La Croix he said he felt the community “had reached the maturity to look the issues in the face, without softening the blow, without hiding in the shadow zones of our founder, all the while recognising everything that he has given us”.
Bishop Benoit Rivière of Autun, who oversees the community, said Fr Philippe “had fragilities which take nothing away from the grace he has as founder or from the mission of his congregation.”