Former students of a private Saskatoon Christian school and church are outraged after the current pastor said he thinks some of their abuse allegations are "exaggerated."
They say Mile Two Church pastor Brien Johnson and the leadership of Legacy Christian Academy continue to deflect and deny responsibility.
"It's very disheartening and unfortunate. They're trying to hide things," former student and church member Stefani Hutchinson said.
This summer, for the first time, Hutchinson and others spoke publicly as part of a CBC News investigation, alleging rampant, systemic abuse at the church and school that included violent corporal punishment, solitary confinement, psychological manipulation and rituals such as exorcisms.
Since the initial stories were published, more than 30 students have filed criminal complaints and a lawsuit against more than a dozen officials. The lawsuit also contains allegations of sexual abuse, and attempts to silence critics and complainants.
In a sermon posted on the official Mile Two Church YouTube channel Sunday, Johnson told the congregation that a lot of stories — "some good and some bad" — have come out in recent weeks.
"And here's all I have to say to that right now. We'll talk more in the information meeting. Some of the stories are true. Some of the stories I think are exaggerated. Some of them, I don't know if they're true or not," Johnson said. "We've got to trust that the truth is going to come to light and we want the truth to come to light."
Johnson does not provide any details or evidence of the exaggerations he mentions. No video of the "information meeting" is posted online.
On Tuesday morning, a Mile Two Church worker answered the phone and said Johnson was in a meeting but would call back. As of Tuesday evening, he had not called or sent a statement.
Hutchinson said Johnson's sermon is an obvious attempt to pacify those who remain in the church. She said this "gaslighting" succeeded in silencing them when they were children, but they are now united and determined to get justice.
"He's trying to spin a tale that just isn't true. [But] there's enough people coming forward now," she said. "They're going to fight tooth and nail until this place goes down."
Another former student, Victoria Reid, said officials have falsely claimed that they reached out to apologize to students. She said this sermon makes it clear they have no intention of taking responsibility.
"It was meant to make people feel good who were still going there, and it was very gaslighting to everyone who knew what was going on on the outside," she said.
"He never said which ones he felt were exaggerated or on what basis he felt claims were exaggerated. It was just this general. 'Oh, you know, some happened, but some I think are exaggerated and some I just don't know.'
"It's all that cloud of vagueness that's so important when you're trying to keep control over people."