By the time Jean Vanier passed away last year, his work and advocacy among adults with intellectual disabilities had already elevated him to the status of near-sainthood among his millions of fans — and he was viewed as a contender for the real deal in the Catholic Church.
But L’Arche International, the organization he founded, has released an internal report that has brought his legacy crumbling to the earth. According to the report, Vanier had coercive sexual relationships with six different women that left them psychologically traumatized and in need of therapy.
The fallout was immediate. Organizations and institutions around the world revoked many of Vanier’s awards and honorifics, many offering words of solidarity with Vanier’s victims.
Tina Bovermann, the United States’ executive director of L’Arche, wrote in a letter to supporters that she shared her organization’s findings with “pain and resolve. … Resolve, because truth matters. Resolve, because the value of every person matters. Always. Unconditionally.”
“At L’Arche, dignity matters: we believe in the inherent value of every human being,” the letter continued. “We are determined to reflect on what we believed to be true about L’Arche’s founder and L’Arche’s founding story. … We stand today on the side of those who have been harmed.”
The group noted that none of the women with whom Vanier had an abusive relationship were intellectually disabled.
For most of Vanier’s life, he was considered a leader in the area of working with the intellectually disabled. Vanier created communities all over the world that were renowned for giving people with intellectual disabilities a place where they could live with dignity. At the time of his death, the Washington Post reports that Vanier had opened 154 such communities in 38 different countries.
Last April, L’Arche hired an independent consulting firm to investigate allegations from two women that they’d been coerced into an inappropriate sexual relationship with Vanier. That investigation turned up allegations from four other women. Some of the women were single and some were married. One had taken a vow of celibacy. The relationships took place between 1970 and 2005.
The report noted that the relationships were “described as emotionally abusive and characterized by significant imbalances of power, whereby the alleged victims felt deprived of their free will and so the sexual activity was coerced or took place under coercive conditions.”
“For many of us, Jean was one of the people we loved and respected the most. Jean inspired and comforted many people around the world,” the group’s international leaders Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney wrote in a letter. “L’Arche will not have a future if we are not able to look at our past with clear eyes. What we learn today is a huge blow and a cause of great confusion but what we lose in certainty, we hope to gain in terms of maturity, and to step into the future of L’Arche with greater justice, insight and freedom.”