Barry Buzza, former leader of Foursquare Church in Canada, accused of sexual abuse
Barry Buzza, a former president of the Foursquare Church in Canada and founder of Northside Church, the Evangelical Pentecostal denomination's largest Canadian congregation, is being sued by a former female member of the church for "psychological, spiritual, and sexual grooming, abuse and exploitation."
Responding to the civil lawsuit filed on Oct. 18, current Northside Church Lead Pastor Joel Conti told the congregation on Oct. 23 that the lawsuit was filed against Northside Church headquartered in British Columbia, the Foursquare Church in Canada and the denomination.
"Because this matter is before the court, I cannot comment on the specifics of the proceedings. Although we are currently limited to what we can legally comment on, we want to emphasize the word currently. Our hope is to keep talking in the weeks and months to come within the confines of the law," Conti said. "Many of you have reached out with various responses of questions, emotions, disappointments and frustrations. We are deeply sorry that we cannot offer you anymore details at this time."
Buzza's accuser, identified in court documents cited by The Local Journalism Initiative as A.B., said the abuse began when she was a vulnerable 28-year-old domestic violence victim in 2007, and he was 60.
A.B. began attending Northside Church, which Buzza founded in 1979, when she was in her mid-20s.
The court documents claim Buzza enjoyed "celebrity status" and was viewed as a "divinely gifted person" in the church community.
Two years after A.B. began attending the church in 2003, both she and her then-husband received counseling from Buzza due to allegations she was a victim of domestic violence.
In 2006, Buzza allegedly directed her husband to move out of the home, and in 2007, he arranged for A.B. to move into his daughter's home.
The woman, who is now 43, said Buzza acted as a father figure to her and would call her his "adopted daughter" as she became very close with his family.
However, things took an unexpected turn when Buzza became president of Foursquare Church in Canada on July 1, 2007.
She alleges that Buzza groped her while his wife slept next to them on a return flight from a trip to Israel.
"She questioned what she had done to invite sexual contact from her father figure," the complaint reads. "The plaintiff immediately felt fear, confusion, shame, and self-blame."
In the days following the first alleged assault, Buzza is said to have grabbed and kissed A.B. at his daughter's home when his daughter was away.
By mid-July of 2007, Buzza helped A.B. move to a small condo. The complaint alleges that in a matter of days, the revered preacher presented himself at the condo and fully undressed for sex.
"[A.B.] did not have the requisite capacity to consent given her vulnerability relative to Buzza's spiritual and emotional authority over her," the lawsuit reads. "She feared rejecting his advances for fear of losing him, his family and the entire life he had helped her create, including her new faith."
A.B. further claims that for the next year and a half, Buzza would show up at the condo for sex and leave money in her key bowl, which made her feel a sense of shame.
Months later, on Buzza's birthday, February 22, 2008, A.B. says she attempted suicide while "suffering under the profound shame, pain, and confusion of Buzza's sexual exploitation and due to her inability to escape the abuse."
According to the complaint, the abuse stopped for a while in 2009 after A.B. met her current husband. Buzza officiated their wedding later that year.
About three years later in 2011, the lawsuit says A.B. accepted a "flexible" job offer from Buzza because she stopped working when her daughter was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and her husband began struggling with his career.
The complaint claims Buzza, who served as Foursquare Church president until 2012, told A.B. that he was diagnosed with liver cancer sometime between 2012 and 2013 "to manipulate her into working from his home, where the sexual abuse began again."
The abuse allegedly continued until late 2014 when A.B. reached out to a church mentor who informed her husband.
When A.B.'s husband confronted Buzza, he was allegedly told something to the effect of, as a Christian, it was an "obligation to forgive him for his trespasses."
Buzza eventually began making A.B.'s work and spiritual life difficult, and she eventually found work at another church as a pastor in 2016. While doing a training on clerical sexual abuse, A.B. began to recognize how she was exploited by Buzza.
In January, she wrote to the denomination's board of directors about her experience and requested an independent investigation, which forced Buzza to resign.
The lawsuit contends that the denomination failed to investigate properly and treated her abuse as a consensual affair.
"It's one thing to have your pastor devalue you through abuse," she said in her last letter to the church, dated July 4, 2022. "But to have an entire organization (who you still considered your family) devalue you … is beyond devastating."