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Anglican officials yesterday put in limbo their inquiry into abuse allegations against two priests who were headmasters of a now-closed private school in Eastern Ontario - angering several former students who accused the church of trying to protect itself from legal action.

The announcement by the bishop of the diocese in which Grenville Christian College was located near Brockville came two days after a Toronto law firm sent notices to the diocese, the school and one of the former headmasters, saying it represented a group of former students considering civil action.

Bishop George Bruce interviewed about 40 former students of the school who claimed they variously experienced physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the school.

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He informed them by e-mail yesterday that he had been advised by legal counsel to suspend his investigation until "a possible Ontario Provincial Police investigation arising from similar allegations against the individuals you had complained about as well as the possibility of a civil class-action lawsuit ... are resolved."

Church officials said he would continue collecting evidence, but hold off on any final decision so as not to prejudice any criminal prosecution or civil litigation. Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the Anglican primate - senior national archbishop - said this was standard procedure.

The two priests whom Bishop Bruce has been investigating are Rev. Charles Farnsworth, who was headmaster for more than a decade until his retirement in 1997, and Rev. Gordon Mintz, who was headmaster at the time the school closed in July.

In addition to allegations of abuse, former students have claimed the school was closely identified with the Anglican Church for more than 30 years while controlled for most of that time by the Massachusetts-based Community of Jesus, which has been labelled a cult in the U.S. media.

Former students said yesterday they felt betrayed by Bishop Bruce's decision.

"He met with us in a pastoral capacity and it seemed to us a commitment," said Jennifer Reid, now a Peterborough teacher. "It's really disappointing that we're still not being heard.

"They still haven't looked at the role of the church and how the church was entangled with the school. Those aren't legal issues or police issues. Those are church issues and the church is again ignoring its pastoral responsibility to people who were hurt."

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Another graduate, Sheila O'Sullivan of Mississauga, said: "I had hoped that finally the Anglican Church was going to take responsibility for their clergy. But given that the diocese has been shockingly derelict in its duties regarding Grenville from the outset, it should really come as no surprise that it continues to do so."

"I'm very disgusted," said Thomas Rossini, a nurse in Michigan. "The bishop is basically covering ... the diocese's butt."

Andrew Hale-Byrne, a British civil servant who graduated from Grenville in the 1990s, said from London: "Bishop Bruce was well aware of the OPP investigation when I met with him on Sept. 28. And are we to believe that the diocese is that naive not to expect a civil lawsuit? The bishop's statement is devoid of any pastoral sentiment."

Richard Van Dusen of Toronto said: "I'm just shocked at the response. It just seems like another step to avoid the real issue of the church's involvement."

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