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A onetime headmaster of Grenville Christian College - likely the first Canadian private school to mark its closing with a criminal investigation - emotionally apologized to former students gathered for a last school supper on the weekend for any pain they experienced while attending the institution.

Ken MacNeil, a staff member for 25 years, walked to the dining hall podium at the end of a videotape celebrating Grenville's 38-year history and a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan songs from past performances at the elite Eastern Ontario school, and told alumni: "If we contributed to your hurt, we are sorry."

A number of former students said he was close to tears.

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His remarks addressed the elephant in the living room at Grenville's final ceremonial gathering: The allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of students that have led to an Anglican Church inquiry into the activities of two priests who were headmasters and an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Until Mr. MacNeil spoke, there had been no formal reference to the allegations or the investigations at the $50-a-plate dinner.

Rather, the event was treated as a nostalgic alumni reunion with the hallways decorated with newspaper clippings celebrating school athletic and academic successes.

The articles also marked milestones in Grenville's history, such as the visits of Ontario lieutenant-governors and the purchase of a woodchip-fuelled heating boiler.

But two key individuals were absent - Rev. Gordon Mintz, the school's last headmaster, and Rev. Charles Farnsworth, headmaster for nearly two decades until his retirement in 1997. Saturday, the night of the dinner, was the 30th anniversary of Mr. Farnsworth's ordination as an Anglican priest.

They reportedly were told by Bishop George Bruce, whose diocese is the one in which the school is located, near Brockville, not to attend. It is complaints against them that the bishop is investigating.

The news media were also barred from attending. A Globe and Mail reporter using an assumed name who came to the school as a guest of a former student was recognized and told to leave.

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Grenville abruptly announced at the end of July it was closing its doors, citing declining enrolment and rising operating costs. The allegations of abuse surfaced in the news media a month later. However, they had been discussed by former students for more than a year on an Internet website dealing with cults.

All but a handful of the Grenville staff were avowed members of the Community of Jesus, a Massachusetts-based organization that has been labelled a cult in U.S. media reports.

According to the organization's dogma, the objective of life is to emulate Jesus by walking in light - free of sin - and the path to this goal leads through so-called light sessions where individuals sit in groups and have their sins pointed out to them by others.

Former students allege that the light sessions they were forced to submit to were exercises in savage psychological humiliation that led in some cases to physical beatings and sexual abasement.

Bishop Bruce has heard from former students that, among other things, they were taken to the school's prize woodchip boiler in the dead of night, their faces were pushed against a viewing window and they were told they were looking at the flames of hell to which they were destined.

He also has been given accounts of alleged exorcisms performed at Grenville.

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More than 20 former students have submitted formal complaints to Bishop Bruce about the two priests. He finished interviewing them on Friday.

Today he will meet the Anglican metropolitan - or senior bishop - of Ontario, Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, to discuss complaints made against retired bishop Peter Mason, Bishop Bruce's predecessor.

At least three Grenville staff members asked Bishop Mason for help in 2001 in dealing with what they said was psychological damage arising out of Community of Jesus practices followed at the school.

In e-mails to at least one staff member, Bishop Mason acknowledged that he was "most anxious about this situation" and that he was "trying to grasp the enormity of the troubles that have ensued over the years." He suggested the staff get counselling. He also visited the Community of Jesus and met with some of its leaders who came to Canada.

But he told The Globe and Mail that he did not think the complaints brought to him about Charles Farnsworth - who was both headmaster and head of the religious community that ran the school - were substantive enough for him to take disciplinary action.

Anglican authorities have maintained that while the local bishop had jurisdiction over priests at the school, he had no authority over how the school was run.

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