Online chats, Canadian probe put Cape Cod church under scrutiny
Sep. 6, 2007
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday September 6, 2007
“Has anyone heard of these, been involved with or had experience in either of these two groups which were originally started by Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen?”
Fourteen months later, the college, a K-12 boarding school, is closing amid allegations of physical and emotional abuse, according to a series this week in the Globe and Mail daily newspaper in Toronto.
And, for the fifth time in 28 years, the Community of Jesus is fielding allegations about cult-like behavior, mind control and excessive discipline among the families and monastic orders at its site at Rock Harbor.
Constant berating, “light sessions” in which participants confront their sin under bright lights, and even beatings, are described in the latest allegations about Grenville and the Community of Jesus.
The allegations of abuse described in the Toronto newspaper date from the 1980s into the 1990s at Grenville.
“This is all 20-year-old news,” Community of Jesus spokeswoman Belinda Schmitt said yesterday. “There’s nothing new to say other than what we’ve said in the past. We want to focus on the future.”
The church was established by two Orleans housewives, Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen, in Andersen’s Rock Harbor living room in 1968.
By the late 1970s, it had become a multi-million-dollar enterprise at the 10-acre Rock Harbor site and in five foreign countries, including Bermuda and Canada.
The first public allegations of psychological abuse and harassment surfaced in the late 1970s. The Times published one series in 1979 in which former members claimed the church was a cult. Two more series of articles in 1981 and 1985 detailed the church’s associations, including the Grenville school.
Community of Jesus lawyer and member Christopher Kanaga said yesterday that there’s been no association with the school and no control for at least 10 to 12 years.
Allegations of abuse again surfaced in 1993 when the Community of Jesus announced plans to build its present Gothic-style stone church and other buildings. At the time, then spokesman William Kanaga said, “I can say, categorically, that all members detest and deplore any type of abuse. We always have, always will.”
Now, the Internet is spreading the allegations and providing a place for people who claim to be former Community of Jesus members or college students and staff to find each other and share their stories.
“When a child became a problem at the community, we would be sent to Grenville to get straightened out,” wrote Ruth Buddington, who started an online message board in April 2006.
Buddington has said she lived at the Community of Jesus since her birth in 1973 and was sent to Grenville in 1987.
Sometimes, healing is evident in the online postings.
Ex-Grenville administrator Joan Childs wrote: “I took part in causing so much of the hurt and pain that so many experienced while they were staff, staff kids, and students at GCC. What was done to people at GCC was very wrong.”
Childs declined to comment yesterday because of an exclusivity agreement with the Canadian newspaper, according to John Childs, her husband and a popular Grenville teacher who retired this summer.
Sometimes, denial is evident in the postings.
“To hear things like how it has a ‘satanic grip’ over people … just seems asinine,” wrote Andrew Haig, son and grandson of Community of Jesus and Grenville leaders. He left the church last year. “There are a lot of things that I am grateful to that place for. God does work through those people.”
Some Grenville staff also deny the allegations, according to the Globe and Mail. A press release says that the school is closing because of changing demographics, declining enrollment and increasing operating costs.
Jeffrey Wilkinson, a former Community of Jesus monk and an ex-Grenville staffer said yesterday that the two sites were “intrinsically linked” from at least 1973 to 1995.
In 1985, then Grenville Headmaster Alastair Haig told the Times that the Community of Jesus saved the college in 1973 from its morale and financial problems. Sixty of the school’s 65 staff members then belonged to the church and many regularly visited the Cape group “to study Community doctrine and to learn discipline.”
Founders Andersen and Sorensen served in 1984 on the college’s board of directors. After Andersen’s death, the 1989 yearbook was dedicated to her, according to Michael Phelan, a 1997 graduate who now lives in Binghamton, N.Y.
Phelan is among the ex-students and church members who have found each other on the Internet. “There’s at least 150 of us that just talk,” said Ellen Hickey Berk, whose parents joined the Community of Jesus in 1979 and left in 2002. She was expelled from Grenville in 1981. She claimed the school and the church have had the same environment for years. “It’s less physical but more mental,” she said of conditions at the church.
“This was an example of religious fundamentalism when it goes unchecked,” said Wilkinson, now a teacher of human rights in Peel District School in Mississauga, Ontario. He went to Grenville as a student in 1973, when he was 16. He was Novice Jacob, a monk, at the Community of Jesus from 1983-1986 and went back to Grenville as a teacher until 1986.
“The vast majority of people who came to Grenville and the Community of Jesus were deeply committed, kind, caring people, who felt this was their God-given call to do.”
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