Church denies that closed, controversial school was Anglican
Sep 6, 2007
Canon Geoff Jackson
Grenville Christian College, a recently-closed private school in Brockville, Ont., which is facing allegations of psychological and physical abuse of its students, “has never been” an institution of the Anglican Church of Canada, according to an Anglican bishop and the chair of the school’s board of directors.
“There is no direct relationship at all between the Anglican Church of Canada and Grenville Christian College,” said Canon Geoff Jackson, board chair of the school, based in eastern Ontario. “The references to it being an Anglican school are not true.”
Although he and the school’s most recent headmaster, Rev. Gordon Mintz, are both Anglican, Mr. Jackson said they were in those positions in a private capacity, and not as entities of the church. Mr. Jackson said he served the Grenville board as a volunteer, while Mr. Mintz was on a leave of absence as a priest in the Kingston-based diocese of Ontario.
Mr. Jackson was responding to a recent series of articles in the Globe and Mail that identified Grenville as an “elite Anglican private school” where students were subjected to cult-like practices that included being woken in the middle of the night and put into a dark room with bright lights and taunted for being sinners.
The bishop of Ontario, George Bruce, has also denied that Grenville – which educated day and boarding students from junior kindergarten through Grade 12 – was an Anglican school. In a pastoral statement issued to his diocese, Bishop Bruce said the diocese, “has at no time had any contractual or de facto responsibility or control over the operations of Grenville Christian College.” He added that the college was operated by its board of directors as a “non-profit charitable benevolent religious corporation.” He said, however, that the diocese “has occasionally, at the invitation of the college leadership, provided clergy (including bishops) to officiate at regular services of worship.”
Bishop Bruce had no comment on the allegations of abuse when contacted by the Anglican Journal.
The Globe also reported that a former student had sent e-mails to both Bishop Bruce and the national church office in Toronto, asking them to “intervene” in the alleged misconduct of former headmaster Rev. Charles Farnsworth but that these had been ignored. (Mr. Farnsworth, an Anglican priest, was the college’s headmaster from the 1970s until 1997.) Jennifer Reid, of Peterborough, Ont., said she had sent Bishop Bruce an e-mail with a link to a Web site where students were detailing alleged abuses over a 20-year period. After the diocesan chancellor (legal adviser) ruled that the e-mails did not constitute a formal complaint of misconduct against Mr. Farnsworth, the bishop said he offered Ms. Reid “further discussion.”
Meanwhile, in his letter, Bishop Bruce described Mr. Mintz, the school’s last headmaster “a priest in good standing of this diocese” who had permission to be on leave from the diocese. He added: “Rev. Mintz remains a priest of this diocese in good standing and remains on leave until a suitable ministry can be identified for him.”
Mr. Mintz has said the stories of abuse were “disconcerting” but unfounded. Allegations of abuse surfaced in the media after the Grenville board, citing financial difficulties and declining enrolment, announced July 31 that the school was not reopening in September. Former students, mostly those who attended the school in the 1980s, had been posting statements on a Web-based message board for a year alleging that they lived in fear at the school and had been psychologically damaged during their stay there. A common story was being subjected to intense “light sessions,” where students were confronted with “unconfessed sins.”
“I remember one horrible day, when the whole school was in silence, and then we all got called to the dining room. The girls remained in the dining room to pray for the boys while their dorms were searched one by one,” wrote a student identified as survivor1101. “It turned into a ‘light session,’ and the boys were sent to the chapel to one of their own. Eventually the entire school ended up in the light session in the dining room. People were called to stand along the edge of that platform and (were) berated and belittled before the whole school body.” Another student alleged a teacher had licked her neck and made sexual comments to her.
Joan Childs, who worked on staff at Grenville for more than 30 years, meanwhile, posted a public apology on the message board saying, “What was done to people at GCC was very wrong. I was very wrong. And I am so sorry for all the hurt that was caused to each of you by me and by all of us in positions of leadership.”
Mr. Jackson, who works as a senior development officer at the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the accusations were a surprise. “These allegations are very, very disturbing,” he said in an interview. (Earlier, the Globe reported that the former diocesan bishop of Ontario, Peter Mason “said he had heard allegations from former staff members of cult practices at the school but had not been aware that it involved students.”)
Asked how the college would respond to the allegations, Mr. Jackson said: “We’re seeking advice and guidance on how to respond to that. Obviously, those who’ve been interviewed by the Globe and Mail feel very strongly about the past. We want to find a way to respond to that.”
Some former students have written open letters on the message board addressed to the Anglican Church of Canada seeking an investigation into the allegations. One asserted that the institution was an Anglican school. “We were forced to attend twice-daily Anglican worship services, using the Anglican Prayer Book, and conducted by the school’s headmasters, who actually became Anglican priests after the school was established.”
Vianney Carriere, director of communications of the Anglican Church of Canada, said the national office was “not planning to issue a statement at this time.”
Mr. Jackson acknowledged that Anglican prayer books were used for worship, but said “they’ve had times when they’ve used other forms of worship that aren’t Anglican.” But he said he understood why students thought it was an Anglican school.
The Globe and Mail reported that an Anglican flag flew in the school and bishops consecrated school buildings. The students have also cited that three of the college’s five headmasters were Anglican clergy – Mr. Farnsworth, his predecessor Rev. Al Haig, and Mr. Mintz.