Grenville probe widens to include ex-teachers

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The investigation into Grenville Christian College has widened with allegations of abuse involving former teachers – allegations that will be heard firsthand today at an inquiry established by an Anglican bishop of Eastern Ontario.

Bishop George Bruce, in whose diocese the now-closed school is located, will hear from former student Richard Van Dusen how one teacher held him down while a second teacher beat him with a heavy wooden object until his underpants were soaked with blood.

Mr. Van Dusen, managing director of Toronto’s contemporary dance company, Dancelands, said he sent the bishop a letter on Thursday recounting his experiences and received an e-mail back saying Bishop Bruce was treating it as a “formal complaint” – which in church language means a cause for a disciplinary inquiry where a bishop decides he has jurisdiction.

Other letters and e-mails that Bishop Bruce has deemed to be formal complaints have focused on the alleged behaviour of Rev. Charles Farnsworth, headmaster of Grenville for two decades until 1997. Mr. Van Dusen’s letter makes little direct reference to Mr. Farnsworth.

Bishop Bruce has said his diocese “at no time had any contractual or de facto responsibility or control over the operations of Grenville Christian College.” But he has acknowledged he has jurisdiction over the priests connected with the school, Mr. Farnsworth and Grenville’s last headmaster, Rev. Gordon Mintz.

In fact, the school flew the Anglican flag, had new buildings dedicated by Anglican bishops – including the primate, the church’s national leader – and had compulsory Anglican services of worship.

Predecessors of Bishop Bruce variously sat on the board of directors and had ties with the religious community that ran the school, as well as links with a companion religious community in Massachusetts labelled a cult by the U.S. media. After Mr. Farnsworth retired in 1997, Bishop Bruce’s immediate predecessor was called on for help and support as the school’s religious community began to crumble.

Bishop Bruce said earlier that he has informed Mr. Farnsworth, 71, who lives in Brockville, Ont., near the school, that allegations have been made against him which the bishop is looking into.

The Globe and Mail for the past week has published accounts from former students alleging cult practices at the school and physical, psychological and sexual abuse. Joan Childs, a former senior administrator at the school, has called it an emotionally, spiritually and physically abusive place and apologized for the “hurt and pain” caused to people.

The school’s board of directors met Thursday night, but vice-chairman Don Farnsworth, the reverend’s son, said it would make no statements at this time.

Mr. Van Dusen, who was a Grenville student for his last two high-school grades, graduating in 1981, said in an interview: “I know my story is a bad story, a hard story for me to talk about.

“But I know from talking to other people that there are hundreds of worse stories. I just want to get that point across to the bishop, that it is something that happened in a school under the watch of Anglican priests. I have the feeling the church is trying to distance itself from this. I think the church can’t really distance itself from something that happened under their watch.”

Bishop Bruce will also talk today with Jennifer Reid, a former Grenville student and now a teacher in Peterborough, Ont. He rejected her e-mail on Wednesday as a formal complaint, but later invited her to meet with him in his Kingston office.

Ms. Reid said: “I’m hoping the bishop and the chancellor [legal officer of the diocese] will see that they have some power and influence to be able to make a difference in terms of preventing this kind of abuse from ever happening again within the Anglican church.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)
The Globe and Mail, Canada
Sep. 8, 2007
Michael Valpy

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This post was last updated: Saturday, September 8, 2007 at 12:57 PM, Central European Time (CET)