A respected Catholic figure who worked to improve conditions for the developmentally disabled for more than half a century sexually abused at least six women during most of that period, according to a report released Saturday by the France-based charity he founded. The report produced for L'Arche International said the women's descriptions provided enough evidence to show that Jean Vanier engaged in "manipulative sexual relationships" from 1970 to 2005, usually with a “psychological hold” over the alleged victims, the AP reports. Although he was a layman and not a priest, many Catholics hailed Vanier, who was Canadian, as a living saint for his work with the disabled. He died last year at age 90.
"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 by L'Arche last year and prepared by the UK-based GCPS Consulting group, said. It did not rule out potential other victims. None of the women was disabled, a significant point given the Catholic hierarchy has long sought to portray any sexual relationship between religious leaders and other adults as consensual unless there was clear evidence of disability. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, however, have forced a recognition that power imbalances such as those in spiritual relationships can breed abuse. During the inquiry, six adult women said Vanier engaged in sexual relations with them as they were seeking spiritual direction.
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