Photo Credits: America Magazine
Jean Vanier of L’Arche, a respected Catholic figure who worked to improved conditions for people with development disabilities, sexually abused women according to a report. He died last year aged 90. After his death, L’Arche drew praise and admiration as a saint from all sides, including Pope Francis and The Economist.
“The alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions,” the report, commissioned last year and prepared by the UK-based GCPS Consulting group, said. The report said Jean Vanier of L’Arche sexually abused six women in Trosly-Breuil, France, between 1970 and 2005.
Sexual relations were instigated by Vanier, usually in the context of giving spiritual guidance. "These women reported similar facts associated with highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviors," the statement said "The relationships [...] had a significant negative impact on their personal lives and subsequent relationships. "These actions are indicative of a deep psychological and spiritual hold Jean Vanier had on these women," it said. It also says Vanier asked the women to keep the incidents secret. The women included assistants and nuns and none of the women had disabilities.
In 1964, through Vanier's friendship with a priest named Father Thomas Philippe, also a sex offender, he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with developmental disabilities. Vanier invited two men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to leave the institutions where they resided and live with him in Trosly-Breuil. Their time together led to the establishment of L'Arche at Trosly-Breuil, a community where people with disabilities live with those who care for them.
Friends of Jean Vanier feel ‘heartbroken’ for abuse victims. Stanley Hauerwas, a world renowned theologian with joint appointments at Duke Divinity School and Duke Law School, said about the scandal: “That (heartbroken) is the way anyone must feel on hearing the news of Jean Vanier’s sexual misconduct… Vanier was supposed to be different and in many ways he was. But the difference makes his behavior all the more devastating. He should have known better.”
As the Guardian report, Vanier was exempt from the church’s in-house sanctioning procedures for abuse; which only cover priests, bishops and cardinals because he was a laymen. For these offenders, the worst penalty the Vatican can impose is defrocking – essentially, making the priests laymen again.