ROCCA DI PAPA, Italy — The findings of an initial expert report were astonishing: One of the 20th century’s revered Catholic leaders, who built an international movement of community care for people with intellectual disabilities, perverted Catholic doctrine about Jesus and Mary to justify his own sexual compulsions and abuse women.

The findings of a second report were even worse: The movement he created had at its core a secret, mystical-sexual “sect,” and was founded for the precise purpose of hiding the sect’s deviant activities from church authorities.

The two rounds of revelations about Jean Vanier and the L’Arche federation he founded have rocked the group to its core, all the more because L’Arche itself commissioned independent scholars to investigate after receiving a first complaint from a victim a few years before Vanier died in 2019. It’s the latest case of a Catholic giant, considered a living saint by his admirers and eulogized as a “great” Christian by Pope Francis, falling to revelations that he abused his power to sexually exploit women under his spiritual sway.

L’Arche’s national and regional leaders have been meeting for the past week in the hills outside Rome for the first time since the latest revelations to chart a path forward, now that their official history has been shown to be a lie and their hero-founder Vanier a narcissistic and delusional abuser. Emotions were still raw, as L’Arche’s most devoted staff processed the gravity of Vanier’s deceptions and what it means for the organization’s future, according to interviews at the retreat with The Associated Press.

“I believed in something, in a vision that then is revealed to you and you’re told it’s not like that,” said Azucena Bustamante, who oversees five L’Arche communities in Honduras, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. “It does frustrate me — the damage it has caused to a lot of people who believed in this, and then found out everything we were made to believe, it’s a lie.”

Vanier founded L’Arche in 1964 in northern France. He initially invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him, then built the utopian-style, Catholic-inspired community into an international movement bringing people with and without disabilities to live together in a spirit of mutual respect.

Born to socially prominent, religiously devout parents — his father was governor general of Canada — Vanier arrived at his calling after having joined a spiritual community, L’Eau Vive, in 1950 that was founded by a French Dominican priest, the Rev. Thomas Philippe.

According to the investigative reports, it was at L’Eau Vive that Vanier fell under Philippe’s spell and was initiated into the priest’s mystical-sexual practices.

Philippe developed his twisted theology after experiencing what he called a mystical “grace” one night in 1938 in Rome, while looking at a fresco of the Madonna in the church atop the Spanish Steps. Over time, the “graces” came to involve sexual gratification with women that both Philippe and Vanier justified by claiming that Jesus and Mary were involved in similarly incestuous sexual relationships.

The nearly 900-page forensic history of the scandal is remarkable, providing perhaps the best documented case of a phenomenon that has existed in the Catholic Church for centuries but is increasingly coming to the public fore: spiritual charlatans using false mysticism to manipulate their victims and abuse them sexually. (AP)