Closed college continues to raise
questions of accountability
By Jim Coggins
November 7, 2007
ALLEGATIONS of abuse at a Christian
school have raised difficult issues of accountability.
Grenville Christian College began
operating as a private Christian boarding school in Brockville,
Ontario in 1970 but closed this year after former students began
making allegations of abusive practices.
According to a series of articles
by Michael Valpy in the Globe and Mail, the school changed direction
in 1973 when Mother Cay and Mother Judy -- leaders of the Community
of Jesus, a "cult" based in Rock Harbor, Massachusetts -- were
invited in as consultants.
Under the influence of 'The
Mothers,' the school was reorganized according to the principles of
the Community of Jesus. These included strict obedience, close
surveillance, harsh punishments and a rigid application of morality
-- even though the Mothers themselves apparently were in a lesbian
relationship, drank heavily and engaged in loud arguments. A
defining practice were "light sessions" in which individuals were
singled out and ordered to confess their sins.
The allegations of abuse mostly
relate to these practices. Students have said the strict control and
light sessions amounted to psychological abuse. They have also
complained about punishments such as being beaten with wooden sticks
and being forbidden to talk to other students. There have even been
a few allegations of sexual abuse.
The complaints mostly relate to the
years when Charles Farnsworth was headmaster. He retired in 1997.
While there were rumours of
problems from the beginning, the school was generally seen as an
elite, upper class school whose students excelled in academics,
sports and the arts.
Annual tuition was $35,000.
The school was also often seen as
an Anglican school even though legally it remained fully independent
and was run by its own board. The school was perceived as Anglican
partly because the Mothers had suggested that the school chapel
follow the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to give the services some
structure. Two of the school's leaders, Alistair Haig and Charles
Farnsworth, also obtained ordination as Anglican priests.
Because of this connection, some
complainants argued that the Anglican Church of Canada should take
some responsibility for the abuses. The Church at first refused to
investigate, arguing that it had no responsibility for the school.
However, George Bruce, Bishop of Ontario, later initiated an
investigation into allegations against officials at the school who
had been ordained as Anglican priests -- since the Church does have
direct responsibility for the credentialing of clergy.
That investigation was later
suspended when some former students initiated a class-action
lawsuit. The Ontario Provincial Police have also begun an
Questions for the Church
Linda Nicholls, Coordinator for
Dialogue for Ethics, Interfaith Relations and Congregational
Development for the Anglican Church of Canada, told CC.com the
Grenville story is cause for reflection on how the Church should
handle situations where it has an arms-length relationship with some
external organization or ministry. In addition to ministry in
schools and other charitable organizations, Anglican priests also
serve as hospital and military chaplains.
Fortunately, Nicholls said,
Anglican dioceses have clear disciplinary canons, or church laws,
for investigating and dealing with allegations of ministerial
impropriety. In serious cases -- when charges are made concerning
sexual abuse of embezzlement, for instance -- a priest is
immediately suspended, to protect both victims and the accused, in
case the accusations prove to be false.
However, since bishops can't be in
every church and there are few regular interventions, usually "the
only way a bishop knows something is not right is if someone
complains," Nicholls noted. This generally works well, since
"Anglicans are fairly forthright" about taking complaints to the
bishops, except for those dealing with difficult issues such as
The Anglican Church deals with
problems "immediately and very strongly," said Nicholls, partly
because it has learned from the abuse that occurred at aboriginal
residential schools, when it did not always act immediately and
Sometimes, said Nicholls, it is
harder to deal with theological discipline. Bishops have
responsibility to "guard the theological boundaries" and will always
respond "when someone complains about a heretical sermon." However,
"Anglicans have a theological breadth" and it is sometimes
"difficult to tell" whether something has crossed theological
boundaries, particularly in areas related to practice.
The Church must now ponder "how to
manage a variety of arrangements" with regard to ministries not
directly under the control of a diocese, said Nicholls. "Most of
these ministries have developed out of a depth of good intentions,
to meet a need," she added, "but good intentions are not enough."
College being sued for $1 billion
Class-action suit claims form
November 6, 2007
By Kim Lunman
Former Grenville Christian College
students have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking $1 billion in
damages to compensate claims they were "physically, emotionally and
psychologically abused and harassed sexually" over nearly four
decades at the now-closed private school east of Brockville.
The statement of claim filed in the
Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Milton, Ont., on Oct. 17 names
two of the school's former headmasters, Rev. Alastair Haig and Rev.
Charles Farnsworth, as defendants along with the Anglican Church,
Grenville Christian College, Berean Fellowship International of
Canada, and a Massachusetts group known as the Community of Jesus.
The court document alleges students
were beaten with wooden paddles and subjected to "light sessions" in
which they were told they were sinners. It also accuses former staff
of questioning female students about their virginity and denouncing
them as "whores."
The lawsuit names three former
Grenville Christian College students as plaintiffs: Tim Blacklock,
Mark Vincent and Martin Whyte. But the class-action suit extends to
former students who attended the school between 1970 and 2007.
The litigants are seeking $500
million in general damages, $250 million in general and special
damages, and another $250 million in aggravated, exemplary and
punitive damages. They are also seeking "complete reimbursement for
all tuition and other fees paid to the college" with compound
interest from the date of the payment.
Their Burlington lawyer,
Christopher Haber, could not be reached for comment.
The 19-page court document states
Rev. Farnsworth "questioned a number of female students with respect
to their sexual experience and chastity, and on numerous occasions
verbally attacked and humiliated female students with insults of a
sexual nature that were coarse, obscene, lewd and degrading."
Farnsworth refused to discuss the
allegations in the lawsuit against him when reached at his home in
Brockville on Monday night.
The 75-year-old Anglican priest
referred questions about the accusations to his lawyer in Ottawa,
Todd Burke, who could not be reached for comment today.
However, Farnsworth said the
scandal swirling around the school he served as headmaster between
1984 and 1998 has been "an ordeal." Allegations by former students
against the elite private school first surfaced on Internet
chatrooms and in the media after Grenville Christian College
suddenly closed its doors in July.
The complaints sparked an Anglican
Church Diocese of Ontario inquiry into complaints and an OPP
"It's a strange situation," Rev.
Farnsworth said when asked about the civil lawsuit by The Recorder
and Times. "It's a tough situation ... it's a terrible shame."
And while he declined to comment on
the accusations, he defended his former school.
"Grenville Christian College was
formed simply to give children a world-class education in a
None of the allegations have been
proven in court and no statement of defence has yet been filed.
The lawsuit states that Haig
"selected incompetent or immoral persons to serve as teachers" and
that he "sanctioned, authorized, and approved the physical beating
of students by teachers and non-teaching staff."
Rev. Haig, of Coldwater, Ont., was
a founding member of the college and is an Anglican priest who
served as headmaster there from 1970 until 1984.
Tim Blacklock, a former Grenville
Christian College student named as one of three former students
identified in the lawsuit, said all he wants is justice.
Blacklock said he has also laid a
formal complaint with the OPP against the college stemming from
alleged incidents while he was a Grade 9 and 10 student in 1976 and
"Obviously, a lot of people have an
ill-feeling toward the school and they need a result or settlement
to move on," he said in an interview.
"There was a lot of rumour, a lot
of talk," said the 46-year-old used car salesman who lives in
Glenburnie, north of Kingston. "When you're a kid and you want to
speak out against the reverend, it's not going to go very far.
"Father Farnsworth hasn't
recognized how he ran the school was improper," Blacklock said. "How
things were, they just weren't right."
The Ontario Provincial Police
launched an investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing at
Grenville Christian College in September. Investigators in Prescott
are handling the case.
"It's still ongoing," said OPP
spokesman Sgt. Kristine Rae. "That's all I can say."
The statement of claim alleges that
Grenville Christian College, the Anglican Church and the Community
of Jesus Inc. were negligent for employing incompetent staff and
"permitted, either expressly or tacitly, teachers and non-teaching
staff to physically, emotionally and psychologically abuse
The lawsuit also alleges the
bizarre disciplinary practices such as "light sessions" were used to
punish pupils at the boarding school.
"Students who were believed to have
sinned were awakened from their dormitory beds during the night by
teachers and/or non-teaching staff, who would then take them to a
darkened room, shine a bright light on their faces, denounce them as
sinners, and berate, castigate, harangue and humiliate them until
they renounced their alleged sins."
Published in Section A, page 1 in
the Tuesday, November 6, 2007 edition of the Brockville Recorder &
Times. Posted 4:30:41 PM Tuesday, November 6, 2007.