Two Catholic school boards in the Greater Toronto Area say they are deeply distressed at a report that found respected Canadian religious figure Jean Vanier sexually abused at least six women.
Vanier, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, devoted his life to “advocating for persons with intellectual disabilities.” He founded of L’Arche, an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) says social workers will be available at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough — on Midland Avenue north of Eglinton Avenue East — on Monday to provide support to staff and students.
“We are deeply concerned about this news and for those individuals and communities that may be impacted,” Shazia Vlahos, spokesperson for the TCDSB, said in a statement on Sunday.
The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB), meanwhile, says it is “too soon to know” whether a decision will be made to change the name of Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Milton, Ont.
Several Catholic schools across the province are named after Vanier.
In an internal report, L’Arche International, a French-based charity, said Vanier had relationships with at least six women between 1975 and 1990 where he “used his power over them to take advantage of them.” Vanier died at age 90 last year.
Pat Daly, educator director for the HCDSB, said in a statement on Sunday that the board has already received questions about a possible name change. He is a former principal at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Milton.
“As a school district, we are shocked and deeply saddened to hear the reports of sexual abuse that have surfaced about Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche. This news is especially upsetting to us, given that one of our schools bears the namesake of Jean Vanier,” Daly says in a statement.
“… I have a personal connection with this community and know that the staff, students and families will be greatly affected by this news. I also know that the spirit of love, faith, and service to others that has been characteristic of this community since the school has opened will continue,” he added.
As for a possible name change, he said: “There are a number of considerations that will need to be explored, and conversations to be held at both the school and board levels.”
Board to pray for sex abuse victims
Daly said the board extends its sympathies to the victims of the abuse.
“We hold them in our prayers as they journey through their pain and hope that all will soon find peace and comfort during this very difficult time,” he said.
The Canadian Encyclopedia also says of Vanier: “His writings and way of life promoted the belief that each person has a unique value as a human being.”
During the inquiry, commissioned by L’Arche last year and carried out by the independent, U.K.-based GCPS Consulting group, six adult, non-disabled women said Vanier had engaged in sexual relations with them as they were seeking spiritual direction.
According to the report, the women, who have no links to each other, reported similar facts and Vanier’s sexual misconduct was often associated with alleged “spiritual and mystical justifications.”
A statement released by L’Arche France on Saturday stressed that some women still have “deep wounds.” Vanier’s actions show “he had a psychological and spiritual hold on these women,” the statement said, adding that nothing suggests that disabled people may have been involved.
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