Jean Vanier, Catholic advocate for the disabled, sexually abused 6 women: internal report

Jean Vanier
Jean Vanier, a Catholic philosopher who helped found a network of homes for intellectually disabled individuals, passed away on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. |

The founder of L'Arche and respected advocate for the intellectually disabled, Jean Vanier, who died last year at age 90, was sexually abusive to at least six women, an investigation has revealed.

The investigation was conducted by the U.K. consultancy GCPS, which included first-hand accounts of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct from six adult women, none of whom were intellectually disabled. The abuse occurred often in the context of him giving spiritual guidance.

“Sincere and consistent testimonies spanning from 1970-2005 were received from six adult women without disabilities indicating that Jean Vanier initiated sexual relations with them, generally as part of spiritual accompaniment. Some of these women have suffered deep wounds,” L’Arche said, without specifying the nature of the harm suffered.

"These women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviors," L'Arche said, which noted that his actions were "indicative of a deep psychological and spiritual hold" he had on the women.

Vanier also asked the women he abused to keep the incident secret.

The Canadian Catholic theologian died in May 2019 at age 90.

He formed his organization in 1964 to minister to persons with intellectual disabilities.

In response to the inquiry, Loren Treisman, CEO of L’Arche in the U.K., said the organization was "thoroughly shocked and saddened" by the news.

"We unreservedly condemn Jean Vanier’s actions. They are in total contradiction to the values that he claimed and are contrary to the fundamental principles of our organization, which affirm the unique value in every person," he said.

"We want to acknowledge and thank the victims for their courage and express our heartfelt regret for the trauma they had to endure. We are devastated that our founder abused his position of power and caused deep hurt to some of his victims."

The investigation found that Vanier did not abuse anyone with learning disabilities.

"While we process this extremely upsetting news, we remain united in our mission to build a world where we celebrate the unique gifts of every individual," Treisman added.

The organization Vanier founded takes its name from Noah’s Ark, which grew to include 154 communities in 38 different countries. Faith and Light, another community-based support network for the disabled that Vanier founded, has 1,450 chapters in over 80 nations. In 2015, Vanier was awarded the Templeton Prize.

Catholics who regarded him as a saint are expressing devastation at the report, particularly in light of another round of revelations about sex abuses and cover-ups from former leaders within the Church and its affiliated entities.

"Part of me wonders now if I was foolish, if I should have known better than to valorize any Catholic this way after watching Theodore McCarrick’s precipitous fall from grace in 2018 or even watching St. John Paul II’s record on sexual abuse be called into serious question after hearing the crowds chant 'Santo Subito' in 2005," Colleen Dulle, an assistant producer at the Jesuit magazine America, wrote Saturday.

"If such widely respected men could commit decades of abuse or turn a blind eye to allegations, why should I have believed Jean Vanier could not do the same?"

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