L'Arche International, a non-profit charity that helps people with intellectual disabilities, released a report Monday that identified 25 women who experienced a sexual act or an intimate gesture between 1952 and 2019 involving the group's founder, Jean Vanier. The report, written by commission of independent French scholars, said the relationships between Vanier, who died in 2019, and the women are "part of a continuum of confusion, control and abuse."
A previous report made public in February 2020 concluded Vanier had manipulative sexual relationships with at least six women in France between 1975 and 1990 and used his power to take advantage of them. Here are some key findings from Monday's 868-page report, which was commissioned by L'Arche to better understand the actions of Vanier and Rev. Thomas Philippe, a Catholic priest whom Vanier had called his "spiritual father."
— From the end of the 1960s to the 2010s, the posture regularly described by the women is that of Vanier on his knees, his head resting on the bare chest of the “accompanied” person.
— Vanier is accused of several touching gestures, “kisses on the mouth each time more intense, more passionate," and caresses on the erogenous zones of both partners, particularly the female’s breast.
— In several cases, the touching progressed to acts of sexual assault. Partial nudity, the absence of coitus as well as the spiritual justification of sexual abuse led Vanier to consider that these were non-sexual practices.
— The report confirms what L’Ache made public in 2020. Vanier adhered to the "deviant" theories of Philippe from the early 1950s. This relationship with Philippe, his doctrine and the practices related to it were structuring elements of Vanier’s personality.
— Until the end of his life, Vanier concealed the real nature of his relationship with Philippe.
— The commission says the number of women having had these experiences is likely to be higher than 25.
— Twenty-five single, married or consecrated adult women without disabilities have been identified as having experienced situations involving sexual acts or intimate gestures at some point in their relationship with Vanier between 1952 and 2019. Some presented themselves as victims of an abusive relationship, others as consenting partners in an abusive relationship. Some of these women are deceased. These relationships are all part of a continuum of confusion, control and abuse.
— The report describes the existence of a sectarian nucleus centred around Philippe as the origin of the history of L’Arche, formed by a few people, one of them Vanier. This sectarian core formed a "microsystem" at the origin of L'Arche. It did not spread beyond a small circle of a few people whose situations are detailed in the report. The commission did not identify any evidence to suggest that these abuses proliferated within L'Arche from this circle.
— The commission says it is confident that no person with disabilities was a victim of Vanier's abusive actions.
— The commission did not identify any individuals (beyond those associated with this microsystem) who were sufficiently informed to be accused of deliberately covering up these facts. Piecemeal information does seem to have been circulated, sometimes in the form of rumours, without any mechanism being in place to make sense of it.
— L'Arche acknowledges its responsibility for not having been able to prevent, identify or report these abuses, and consequently, for not having been able to put a stop to them. L’Arche renews its apologies offered in 2019 and sincerely asks forgiveness from the victims of these situations of abuse.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.
The Canadian Press