Anglican authorities have begun investigating the activities of a retired Anglican priest who was headmaster for two decades of a now-closed private Christian school where alleged abusive cult practices were carried out.
The decision now rests with Bishop George Bruce, in whose Eastern Ontario diocese Grenville Christian College, near Brockville, is located.
He will decide whether to inhibit – or suspend from all priestly activities – Rev. Charles Farnsworth, 71, while the investigation is carried out.
Anglican canon law specifically allows for inhibition in disciplinary inquiries “if it appears to the bishop that great scandal is likely to arise if a priest continues to perform the duties of his or her office while a charge is under investigation …”
Last night, the school’s board of directors met with the allegations on their agenda and the board chairman, Canon Geoff Jackson, was quoted in the Brockville, Ont., Recorder and Times as offering a personal apology to any student of the school who suffered abuse.
Also yesterday, a former student received a letter from the office of the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the national leader of the Anglican Church of Canada, stating: “It is clear that you have experienced a great deal of pain. The issues that you raise in the letter are serious and the Anglican Church of Canada is very committed to addressing all allegations of abuse, particularly where children are involved.”
Bishop Bruce yesterday invited complainants to meet him in his office in Kingston. The first meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow.,
The bishop did not respond yesterday to questions from The Globe and Mail about inhibition, how the church inquiry would be carried out and how many people were being investigated. At least two of the complaints from former students mentioned a second priest. The school was not under the control of the church, but priests at the school were licensed as clergy by the diocesan bishop.
The bishop said: “I have the discretion to notify a person complained against and have done so. Since the process of investigation is just beginning it is premature to speculate on its outcome. Further, since I have initiated the canonical process, I think you would agree that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.”
Earlier this week, the bishop said that the correspondence he had received from a former student of the school – which closed last month because of falling enrolment and rising operating costs – did not constitute a formal complaint against Mr. Farnsworth and therefore no investigation would be triggered.
But after he receiveda number of complaints with specific allegations yesterday, he decided to act.
One complaint, from a former student, Elizabeth Edmonson Quint, now living in Boston and writing a book about her time at the school, stated: “I was subjected to extreme psychological and emotional abuse by Charles Farnsworth.
“He was particularly abusive around the issue of sexuality. For example, he called me into his office and told me that because I had confessed to having a crush on a boy in my grade that I was ‘like a bitch in heat’ and laughed long and hard after he had finished uttering his words.
“I firmly believe that Charles Farnsworth should be held accountable for his actions and that the Anglican Church ought to publicly acknowledge that he misused his power as a priest to abuse helpless children.”
In an interview with The Globe last week, Mr. Farnsworth, now retired, denied that students had experienced abuse during his headmastership from the late 1970s to 1997. He also denied specific allegations against him.