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Brisbane L’Arche community in shock over findings of leader Jean Vanier’s prolonged sexual abuse

Abuser: Jean Vanier. Photo: CNS

BRISBANE L’Arche community leader met Jean Vanier four times since the 1980s and never once considered him anything but an inspirational Catholic.

But last weekend his image of Vanier was shattered when the L’Arche International community announced the findings of an independent inquiry that found the internationally renowned Canadian had sexually abused at least six women.

L’Arche Brisbane community leader Michael Hutchinson said he was “stunned” by the news, but said the community would still be operating and would continue to “value the lives of people” with and without a disability.
“We really need to do what we say we do,” Mr Hutchinson said.

L’Arche International Community, founded by Vanier in 1964, announced last week the findings of an independent inquiry that concluded Mr Vanier had used his status as an influential religious leader to engage in sexual relations with at least six women between 1970 and 2005.

A summary report released on February 22, 2020, stated the women were not disabled, and ranged from single, married and vowed celibates, all of whom were coerced into various forms of sexual activity. 

It said the women were not linked to each other and were unaware of each other’s respective stories, and concluded there was enough evidence to establish that Mr Vanier had “engaged in manipulative sexual relationships with at least six women”.

“The relationships involved various kinds of sexual behaviour often combined with so called ‘mystical and spiritual’ justifications for this conduct,” the summary report stated. 

“This includes allegations that some of the sexual activity took place within the context of spiritual accompaniment whereby Jean Vanier as a person of significant power and authority would offer guidance to certain assistants he chose to accompany.” 

Mr Vanier had grown to international acclaim after he invited two people with intellectual disabilities to live in his home, inspiring the current model of L’Arche communities worldwide.

There are 154 L’Arche communities around the world, including a vibrant community in Brisbane.

In a statement on their website and Facebook page concerning the investigation, Mr Hutchinson described his shock and sadness at the revelations.

“It comes as a great shock to me and for those who have had any association with Jean Vanier over the years,” Mr Hutchison wrote in the statement.

“Our shock and sadness pales into insignificance compared to the lack of respect afforded to these women in the name of spiritual accompaniment. We applaud their courage to speak up and let the truth be known. We pray that this inquiry will assist in their personal healing of the deep damage that has been inflicted upon them.

“We also need to pray, as members of L’Arche for the dark days that will come and live with the hope that out of these dark days will come the strength to continue in our belief in the value of each person. “Let us go gently in the days ahead.”

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