Assault charges laid

Published May 1, 1999

Representatives of the diocese of Winnipeg and Toronto have expressed shock and sadness following the arrests in March of a priest and former priest on sexual assault charges. The arrests follow a five-month investigation by the Winnipeg police.

The charges against Charles David Griggs and James Townley-Smith involve 12 males and date back to the 1960s, 70s and early 80s when Mr. Griggs worked at an Anglican summer camp in Ontario and the two men worked together at an Anglican parish in Winnipeg.

Mr. Griggs, 70, was arrested in his home in Inwood, Man. for alleged assaults on nine males ranging from six to 17 years old. The allegations involve fondling, masturbation, oral and anal intercourse. The assaults are said to have occurred between January 1965 and December 1982 while Mr. Griggs was a priest at the Winnipeg parishes of St. Barnabas’, St. George’s and St. Bede’s, and while he was director of the Anglican Island Camp in Lake of the Woods Ontario, just outside Kenora.

Mr. Griggs’s duties at the camp included organizing outings for the children.

Rev. James Townley-Smith, 59, was arrested in his Toronto home and taken to Winnipeg on indecent assault and gross indecency charges against three males between eight and 11 years old, including one who had cerebral palsy. The charges involve genital fondling and are said to have taken place between January 1971 and December 1974 when Mr. Townley-Smith worked under the direct supervision of Mr. Griggs at St. George’s.

The charges allege that the acts took place when Mr. Townley-Smith visited the family homes of members of St. George’s and had unsupervised access to children. The parents of one of the alleged victims told police they caught Mr. Townley-Smith assaulting their child and complained to Mr. Griggs. Police were not called and Mr. Townley-Smith was subsequently transferred to Toronto.

Last summer, Mr. Griggs was charged with sexually assaulting a boy in his congregation in the 1960s when he was a priest at St. Barnabas. Charges in that case are still pending.

In 1986, Mr. Griggs renounced his priestly orders but has continued to serve as a lay member of the church.

The bishop of the Diocese of Rupert’s Land has said he is “appalled by the stories of the uni-maginable pain” suffered by victims of abuse that have surfaced following the arrests. In a pastoral letter, read in churches in the diocese the Sunday after the arrests, Bishop Lee said the men are “innocent till proven guilty,” but added the charges are “very serious.”

“The consequences of the violations are far reaching,” said Bishop Lee. “Men who should be enjoying their prime adult years are burdened with destructive memories which have taken from them the joy of childhood and adulthood.”

The charges occurred in the context of the life and programs of the Anglican Church, he added, at a time when both the church and society were “not as sensitive to such offences and their impact.” He has pledged to do everything he can for the alleged victims, including offering to meet with them and pay for counselling. One person has already accepted the offer.

Since January 1994, the diocese has had a protocol that calls for “quick and decisive response” to allegations of abuse, said Bishop Lee. Also, clergy and youth workers in the diocese must have background checks with the police and the Child Abuse Register of the Child and Family Services division before being appointed.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Toronto also expressed sadness after the arrests. Mr. Townley-Smith had done occasional work at six Toronto parishes until his arrest.

“I think when you hear this sort of information it’s always very distressing and very disturbing for the life of the church and everyone involved,” said Ven. Colin Johnson, executive assistant to the Bishop of Toronto.

To date, the diocese has not received any complaints of sexual misconduct involving Rev. Townley-Smith’s duties in Toronto, Archdeacon Johnson said.

After the diocese learned of the arrests, it prepared a letter read in parishes where Mr. Townley-Smith had served.

The diocese responds to allegations of abuse “seriously and carefully” said the letter, signed by Bishop Terence Finlay. It invited people with information or concerns to contact church officials.

Mr. Townley-Smith was released on $10,000 bail and conditions, including that he not communicate or be alone with anyone under 18 and that he not perform any official or unofficial functions as a priest with any Anglican church or represent himself as a priest. His next court appearance was scheduled for April 19.

Mr. Griggs was released on $1,000 bail and conditions, including that he have no communication with any complainant or any person under 16, that he not perform church services and that he abide by a curfew of 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. His next court appearance was set for April 28.

Meanwhile, according to a Winnipeg police spokesman, the investigation of both men is continuing. “We’ve had a number of phone calls of inquiry, and bringing forward new information,” said Cst. Bob Johnson.

According to a media release on the arrests, two subsequent victims have been confirmed and “others are pending.” Marianne Meed Ward is a freelance writer, editor and broadcaster living in Toronto.


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