Nov 25, 2016

Man with ties to Cape church charged in Canada

Cape Cod Times



A man with ties to the Community of Jesus in Orleans and a controversial but now defunct school in Ontario is facing charges in Canada that he sexually assaulted a boy under the age of 18 in the late 1980s.

Robert Farnsworth, 49, of Wolford Township, Ontario, was arrested Oct. 5 by the Ontario Provincial Police and charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of gross indecency, following an investigation that began early this year after a man claimed to have been the victim of a sexual assault between 1986 and 1987.

Farnsworth’s next court appearance is scheduled for today. He has yet to enter a plea to the two charges.

Orleans town census records from 1989 show Farnsworth lived at 5 Bay View Drive, the address of the 14-acre Community of Jesus property at Rock Harbor. The religious organization’s attorney, Jeffrey Robbins, said Farnsworth lived in the private home of a member of the church.

“That’s not a link,” Robbins said about the allegations against Farnsworth and his time in Orleans.

Farnsworth is the son of Charles Farnsworth, the co-founder and former headmaster of Grenville Christian College in Maitland, Grenville County, Ontario. The shuttered K-13 private school and its leaders are defendants in a $225 million class action lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court. The lawsuit alleges mistreatment of residential students from 1973 to 1997, including the systematic indoctrination of students in the teachings and practices of the Community of Jesus.

Charles Farnsworth died in 2015.

The class action lawsuit filed in 2007 alleges residential students at the school underwent humiliating “light sessions” and exorcisms, experienced “excessive, abusive and inappropriate punishments” such as being forced to cut the lawn with scissors, and had communication cut off from their families. During a “light session” students were forced to confess sins, real or imagined, as staff members challenged or screamed at the students, according to an amended statement of claim filed on March 15, 2010, as part of the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges the school failed to protect students from sexual, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual abuse; failed to provide adequate supervision of students; hired unqualified staff; and imposed demeaning and brutal tasks as discipline.

Punishment of Grenville students included being sent to the Community of Jesus, the lawsuit says.

Attorneys for the school and Charles Farnsworth denied the allegations in a statement of defense filed in September 2010, including the allegation that there was a campaign to “promote and indoctrinate students in the teachings and practices of the Community of Jesus.”

“What was ‘promoted’ at Grenville was conducting oneself with respect for others and in accordance with basic human moral values predominantly accepted as such in Canadian society,” according to the statement.

The class action lawsuit was certified in 2014 and the case is ongoing.

On the day after his arrest, police brought Robert Farnsworth to the Ontario Court of Justice in Brockville, and he was released on $2,000 bond on each charge. At his court appearance, he was ordered to stay away from nine people, including at least one of the class action’s representative plaintiffs, Andrew Hale-Byrne, a court official said. The alleged incident that spawned the charges against Farnsworth occurred in Grenville County, which includes the town of Maitland where the Grenville school was located, but officials have not said whether it is connected directly to the college.

Making any connection between Robert Farnsworth living at the complex in Orleans nearly three decades ago and the charges he now faces in Ontario is “a disgraceful bit of guilt by association” and a “terrible smear,” Robbins said.

Robert Farnsworth’s attorney, Michael O’Shaughnessy, of Brockville, Ontario, did not return messages seeking comment for this story. The Times could not locate contact information for Robert Farnsworth.

The origins of the Community of Jesus trace back to the early 1960s in Orleans when two Episcopal women — Cay Andersen and Judy Sorensen — became known for their Bible teaching, prayer and practical insights in applying scriptural principles to daily living, according to the church’s website. After Andersen’s death in 1988 and Sorensen’s retirement in 1992, Betty Pugsley was elected church leader. Today, about 225 adults and 50 children and young people live as households in 30 privately owned, multifamily homes that surround the church, including 25 celibate men and 60 celibate women.

Mary Haig, of Orleans, known now as Mary Haig French, is also named as a defendant in the class action lawsuit because she is the executor of the will of defendant J. Alastair Haig, according to Ontario-based attorney Sabrina Lombardi, who represents the plaintiffs.

J. Alastair Haig was the Grenville school’s co-founder and came to the Community of Jesus in 1983, leaving the headmaster role to Charles Farnsworth, according to the lawsuit.

Haig told the Times in 1981 that the Community of Jesus had saved the college in 1973 from its moral and financial problems. Haig French, who was an administrator and teacher at the school, did not return a message seeking comment for this story. J. Alastair Haig died in 2009.

Many school staff members belonged to the church and regularly visited the Cape to study Community of Jesus doctrine and learn discipline, and children from the Community were sent to the Ontario school, according to church and school officials who have spoken with the Times in the past.

But Robert Farnsworth was not a staff member at Grenville, said Toronto attorney Geoffrey Adair, who represents the school in the class action lawsuit. And Robert Farnsworth was never a member of the Community of Jesus, Robbins said.

Hale-Byrne, who wrote a book published in 2015 about Grenville’s history from 1973 to 1997 and its connection with the Community of Jesus from his perspective and research, disagrees.

“The 1986 Grenville yearbook clearly references him as staff ‘Mr. Robert Farnsworth’ and they identify him as responsible for junior dormitory and coaching junior boys basketball,” he said. “The yearbook clearly states, ‘Robert is known for getting the junior boys to bed.’”

And all of the staff at Grenville during the period covered by the class action lawsuit — 1973 to 1997 — were members of the the Community of Jesus, Hale-Byrne said.

“They all wore the Community of Jesus ring and took vows to Mothers Cay, Judy and Betty, and that includes Robert Farnsworth,” he said.

— Follow Mary Ann Bragg on Twitter: @MaryAnnBraggCCT


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