Residents of the L’Arche Comox Valley I Belong Centre, along with L’Arche personnel, pose for a picture on the front lawn of their newly opened home. The I Belong Centre, a multi-unit residential complex and community centre, celebrated its grand opening Sept. 12, 2017.

L’Arche Comox Valley community reeling over findings of inquiry into founder

The local L’Arche community is reeling in the wake of a report that has determined L’Arche founder Jean Vanier sexually abused six women, between 1975 and 1990.

“Everybody is in shock, and actually devastated,” said L’Arche Comox Valley executive director Christine Monier. “The revealings are credible and they reveal a side of him that nobody knew about.

“There’s a sense of sadness, and betrayal here. It just hurts. It’s not acceptable. It was no more acceptable 50 years ago than [it is] today.”

The inquiry, which was commissioned by L’Arche and conducted by an independent group (GCPS Consulting), determined Vanier had engaged in sexual relations with the six adult, non-disabled women who had approached the revered religious leader for spiritual direction.

RELATED: Canadian L’Arche community shocked by inquiry findings

The inquiry was started in April of 2019, one month before the 90-year-old Vanier’s death.

“It was an internal inquiry by an external body, independent from L’Arche, so there wouldn’t be any conflict of interest,” explained Monier. “Another oversight committee reviewed the findings… to make sure that it was credible. I think they did their due diligence, and L’Arche wanted to reveal, and not hide this internal report, which is very damning. It just takes down Jean Vanier, who was on a pedestal, who we all looked up to, and now we look at him in the truthful light that these [findings] of abuse shed on him.

“This is an incredibly noble organization and I think the fact that it had the courage to call out Jean and actually take him down … for me, speaks to the integrity of the organization.”

Monier said the local L’Arche community is shattered and conflicted.

“There’s the man, Jean Vanier, and then there’s his message and the work of L’Arche – [those] are two separate things. We did look at him as an inspiration and he was able to put words on the core values, the guiding principles [of L’Arche] but his actions are the antithesis … they stand against everything that L’Arche stands for.”

She said it’s important to note that the L’Arche community is far greater than the man who founded it, and that L’Arche will continue to be an important beacon in the Comox Valley, and beyond.

“L’Arche is beyond Jean Vanier. We know that we stand for vulnerable people and we have zero tolerance for abuse in our community. We have lifted marginalized people out of very difficult situations – people with disabilities now live more dignified lives, more meaningful lives, with friendships and relationships. All that work that L’Arche does, will continue. We clearly stand with the victims, and the hurt that they have experienced, but that doesn’t diminish the work and the values that L’Arche has. I don’t think this changes who we are and what we do.”

Monier is confident L’Arche Comox Valley will overcome the findings of the report.

“Oh I think so – where there’s crisis, there’s opportunity. I think this will allow us to more clearly articulate what the mission, the goals, the values of L’Arche stand for, which is standing for the vulnerable,” said Monier. “One man does not define what L’Arche is, and the mission it has around the world. I am confident that one day we will look back with courage and humility and we will become stronger through this ordeal, and we will build a stronger future, because I really believe in the mission of L’Arche. People with disabilities need our support, and they are a gift. They make our community – that diversity, that inclusion – we are stronger because of their presence.”

The findings of the inquiry hit Monier particularly hard, as she was personally acquainted with Vanier.

“I met him on several occasions,” she said. “I lived in France for 18 years. I lived in the community where he was living for four years. I wasn’t in his inner circle, but I never felt anything untoward…. Personally I feel disheartened, saddened, betrayed, and what’s difficult is grasping that he did good, and then he did such evil. That said, I am not at L’Arche because of Jean Vanier. I am at L’Arche because of the people, and the lives that we transform. These people are amazing people, and their lives are worth shining a light on.”

Jean Vanier was the son of former governor general Georges Vanier, after whom the Courtenay school is named. He visited the Comox Valley, and spoke at the school, in 1996. L’Arche Comox Valley opened in the year 2000.

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