The son of a former headmaster of an Ontario Christian school that was closed in 2007 amid accusations of abuse and cult-like practices has been charged with sexual assault for alleged offences dating back 30 years.
Robert Farnsworth, 49, was charged on Wednesday with sexual assault and gross indecency in connection with incidents between 1986 and 1987. The alleged victim was male and under 18 years old. Mr. Farnsworth appeared in a Brockville, Ont., court on Thursday and was granted bail.
He is the son of Charles Farnsworth, the late headmaster of Grenville Christian College, an elite private school near Brockville that was affiliated with the Community of Jesus, a controversial U.S. religious sect often described as a cult. Grenville closed in 2007 after 38 years in operation, citing declining enrolment and rising operating costs.
The closing coincided with a growing chorus of alumni accusing the school of chronic abuse and bizarre religious rites. A $225-million class action lawsuit filed in 2008 alleges former students were "sexually, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually traumatized" by their time at the school. The suit is ongoing.
Heather Bakken, a Grenville alumnus and Toronto resident, expressed relief and a sense of "vindication" that someone connected to the school is facing charges, although investigators would not confirm that the allegations concern Grenville.
Former students have described a climate of intense sexual repression in which women suspected of immoral behaviour were described as "Jezebels" and "bitches in heat," and romantic relationships between students were discouraged and brutally policed.
Extreme physical punishment was common for students who ran afoul of the school's stringent rules, a 2007 Globe investigation found. One ex-pupil described being beaten by a teacher using a heavy wooden object until he bled into his underpants.
Charles Farnsworth, a member of the Community of Jesus and an ordained Anglican priest, presided over a culture of religious fervour that many former students describe as frightening and abusive. School staff held what were known as "light sessions," in which teenagers were taken from their beds at night and placed in a dark room and interrogated about their "sins" with a light shining on them.
The allegations led to an inquiry by the Anglican Church into the two priests who were headmasters of the school, and an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) investigation that ended in 2008 with no charges.
In a release, the OPP said the current investigation began after a man came forward in early 2016 with allegations of sexual assault.
Many former students commented this week on a Facebook group for Grenville alumni, including contemporaries of Robert Farnsworth who believe he was a staff member at the school at the time of the alleged offences, although others recalled him being in Grade 13.
The Community of Jesus was founded by two women known as Mother Cay Andersen and Mother Judy Sorensen, who believed children should be separated from their parents for long stretches to avoid being "idolatrized." It operated an authoritarian religious compound in Massachusetts that frequently sent its children to Grenville.
The school, which charged up to $35,000 a year in tuition, counted two former Ontario lieutenant-governors, a senator and a former Canadian high commissioner to the U.K. among its patrons.