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New sex abuse allegations target son of former headmaster at now-closed Christian boarding school

More former students of a now-shuttered Christian boarding school in eastern Ontario are coming forward with allegations of sexual abuse against a son of the former headmaster, fearing he continues to be a danger to children.

The two former Grenville Christian College students told CBC’s The Fifth Estate they were abused by Robert Farnsworth as children in the 1980s.

“I’m [speaking out] today because I know that someone who sexually assaults little kids … who doesn’t hesitate to take away their innocence at the age of six or seven, or eight … will never stop,” one former student said.

“Not until he’s … locked up.”

The CBC is protecting her identity because of the nature of the allegations. 

  • Watch “School of Secrets: New revelations from inside the cult” on The Fifth Estate on Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV or stream on CBC Gem.

Robert Farnsworth hasn’t responded to repeated requests for comment from CBC News. 

new sex abuse allegations target son of former headmaster at now closed christian boarding school
Farnsworth graduated from Grenville Christian College in 1986 and then worked for a time as a staff member at the boarding school. His late father, Charles Farnsworth, was the headmaster from 1983-1997. (Grenville Christian College 1985-1986 yearbook)

The new allegations are in addition to those of two other former students who say they, too, were abused as children by the same man. Those allegations were revealed as part of an investigation by The Fifth Estate into Grenville Christian College in November.

Farnsworth, 55, lives near Brockville, 115 kilometres south of Ottawa.

In the 1980s, he was a student and then, after graduation, a maintenance person at the Anglican boarding school near Brockville. His father, Charles Farnsworth, was the headmaster at the school from 1983 to 1997.

In 2020, former students won a lawsuit, later upheld on appeal, confirming they had been emotionally and physically abused over three decades at Grenville Christian College. 

The Fifth Estate‘s report in November revealed additional allegations of sexual abuse involving Farnsworth, and his father Charles.

“There was a sleepover that was going to be held at [headmaster] Charles Farnsworth’s house,” former Grenville student Michael Phelan told The Fifth Estate last summer. “In the night, [his son] Robert molested me and [another] boy.”

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In October 2021, a class-action lawsuit against Grenville Christian College was upheld on appeal. The trial judge concluded that ‘the varieties of abuse perpetrated on students’ bodies and minds in the name of the [Community of Jesus] values of submission and obedience was class-wide and decades-wide.’ (John Badcock/CBC)

One of the two new people to come forward says she was assaulted by Robert Farnsworth when she was six or seven years old in the late 1980s. The other was 14 years old and a Grade 8 student at Grenville Christian College when he says he was assaulted at the school in 1986.

Family believes allegations may be true

Charles Farnsworth died in 2015. Robert’s brother, Donald, who was also a senior administrator at the school, has repeatedly defended the school and his brother’s reputation. He also denied the earlier allegations of sexual abuse on behalf of his brother in an email to The Fifth Estate.

Donald has not been the subject of any allegations.

WATCH | Survivor fears alleged abuser continues to be a danger to children:

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Survivor speaks out

3 hours ago

Duration 0:27

A woman has come forward alleging Robert Farnsworth sexually assaulted her as a child in the late 1980s. 0:27

However, in response to a series of more recent private Facebook messages with one of his brother’s accusers, obtained by The Fifth Estate, Donald appears to admit he believes, in at least one case, the allegations against his brother could be true.

His brother’s accuser reached out to him after The Fifth Estate story in November, saying she and another boy had been abused.

“Your brother raped me while another boy was in the same room,” she wrote. “He then sexually assaulted that other little boy.”

Donald Farnsworth replied: “I have asked my brother on multiple occasions to admit guilt and pay consequences.” 

As a former student, Donald is familiar with his brother’s accuser and her family, adding: “You are someone I would choose to believe over my brother.”

Cult connection

The Fifth Estate investigation also uncovered strong connections between Grenville Christian College and a controversial cult in Cape Cod, Mass. 

The Community of Jesus was founded in the 1960s. Its website says it has 275 members, many who live at its sprawling compound on the shores of Cape Cod.

The group vigorously denies it’s connected to the former Ontario school, but witnesses and documents obtained by The Fifth Estate show ties between the two entities that lasted decades, including provincial records listing leaders in the U.S. as corporate directors for the school. A judge in Canada also confirmed the connection.

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New allegations against Robert Farnsworth claim he sexually assaulted a woman when she was six or seven years old at the home of a Communiy of Jesus member in Orleans, Mass. (John Badcock/CBC)

Senior leaders from the U.S. group often visited the Ontario school and children from Cape Cod were sent to attend school there. Teachers and staff members often travelled back and forth between the two for retreats and employment.

One of Robert Farnsworth’s accusers who recently came forward says he abused her at the Community of Jesus in Cape Cod, where he visited. She lived there when she wasn’t going to school at Grenville Christian College.

In a written response, a lawyer for the Community of Jesus says Robert Farnsworth was never an official member of the U.S. group.

“We understand that allegations have come to light about the alleged conduct of a Canadian citizen, Robert Farnsworth … including allegations that such conduct occurred not only in Canada but at a privately owned house on Cape Cod,” Jeffrey Robbins wrote in an email to The Fifth Estate.

“The conduct alleged would have been disgraceful, outrageous and in utter contradiction of what we stand for and believe in.”

OPP reviewing case

A fourth man accused Robert Farnsworth of assaulting him when he was a student at Grenville in 1986 and 1987. Farnsworth had recently graduated from Grenville Christian College and was working as a maintenance person there at the time.

In 2016, Farnsworth was charged with sexual assault and gross indecency in that case, but was acquitted at trial.

Following The Fifth Estate report in November that revealed the new allegations of sexual assault against Robert Farnsworth, the Ontario Provincial Police announced it was reviewing its entire investigation into Grenville Christian College, including allegations against Farnsworth. 

That review is underway. 

“The OPP criminal investigation branch is continuing to actively review the allegations which the CBC brought to our attention in late 2021,” the OPP wrote in a statement.

“This could include interviews or re-interviews of witnesses, as determined by the assigned OPP major case manager. All of this will take time.”

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