Long-time pastor, founder of Northside Foursquare Church, accused of sexual abuse

A Langley woman has filed a lawsuit against Northside Foursquare Church and pastor Barry Buzza, claiming the pastor sexually abused her and subjected her to “psychological, spiritual, and sexual grooming, abuse and exploitation.”

The lawsuit also alleges Buzza used his privilege and power as her pastor and as the woman’s father figure to gain her trust when she was most vulnerable.

“The grooming and sexual exploitation was perpetrated through Buzza’s coercion, manipulation and exploitation of his position of power and control over the plaintiff,” the claim stated.

The woman, identified in court documents as A.B., is claiming damages against Buzza, the Lansdowne Drive church, and its parent organization Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada in the notice of civil claim filed in the B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 18.

The claim alleges, among other things, that Reverend Buzza was the one who baptized A.B. a year after she began attending the church when the plaintiff was in her mid-twenties.

“In the plaintiff’s circumstance — and perhaps in others — Buzza exploited that trust and loyalty by engaging in non- consensual sexual contact.” the notice of civil claim alleged.

Buzza founded Northside Church in 1979 and served as its lead pastor for more than 40 years. From 2007 to 2012, he served as president of Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada, overseeing churches across the country.

He enjoys a “celebrity status” in the church-going community, and is viewed as a “divinely gifted person,” according to the suit.

A.B. started attending Northside Church in 2003.

In 2005, she and her then-husband received marriage counselling from Buzza, in relation to allegations of domestic violence against A.B. at the hands of her husband.

The following year, Buzza directed A.B.’s husband to move out of the house, and in 2007, arranged for the woman to move into Buzza’s daughter’s home.

In multiple instances throughout the court filing, the woman described Buzza as having acted as a father figure toward her, stating that he would refer to her as his “adopted daughter.”

The civil claim alleged that A.B. became extremely close to Buzza’s family.

The abuse began less than a year later on July 1, 2007, the day he became president of Foursquare, according to the suit. At the time, A.B. was 28-years-old and Buzza was 60.

It is alleged that A.B. was invited on a trip to Israel with Buzza and his wife and that on the return flight, she was groped by Buzza while his wife slept next to them.

“She questioned what she had done to invite sexual contact from her father figure,” the suit stated, adding she was unable to move.

“The plaintiff immediately felt fear, confusion, shame, and self-blame,” the suit alleges.

The abuse continued in the following days, with Buzza coming to his daughter’s home when he knew she was not home, and grabbing and kissing A.B., according to the civil claim.

Buzza helped her move into a small condo in mid-July, and within days came over and fully undressed in front of her, expecting sexual relations.

“(A.B.) did not have the requisite capacity to consent given her vulnerability relative to Buzza’s spiritual and emotional authority over her,” the court documents state.

“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.”

For approximately the next year and half, A.B. alleged that Buzza would regularly come to her home for the purposes of sex, often leaving money in her key bowl, “further fueling her feelings of shame and self-blame.”

According to the civil claim, A.B. attempted suicide on Buzza’s birthday on February 22, 2008. She alleges that she did so while “suffering under the profound shame, pain, and confusion of Buzza’s sexual exploitation and due to her inability to escape the abuse."

A.B. claims Buzza’s wife took her to hospital, and allegedly told a social worker at Eagle Ridge Hospital not to allow her spouse to see A.B. Buzza accessed the hospital and visited A.B. the next day, according to court filings.

The civil claim alleges that Buzza coached her A.B. to lie to physicians to say she overdosed on sleeping pills, stating if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be able to see her children. The alleged abuse was never disclosed to doctors.

A.B. states the alleged abuse stopped in 2009, for a period, after she met her current husband. Buzza officiated the wedding when they were married later that year.

According to the civil claim, A.B.’s daughter was diagnosed with a serious medical condition in 2011, which caused A.B. to leave her employment to care for her daughter. At the time, A.B.’s husband was “struggling in his career,” and with the family struggling financially, A.B. accepted a “flexible” job offer from Buzza.

Sometime between 2012 and 2013, A.B. told Buzza he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer, to manipulate her into working from his home, where the sexual abuse began again, according to A.B’s civil claim.

A.B. alleges that Buzza’s abuse continued until late 2014, when she reached out for help from a church mentor and then told her husband about the abuse.

According to the civil claim, A.B.’s husband confronted Buzza, who responded by telling A.B.’s husband something to the effect that, as a Christian, it was his "obligation to forgive him for his trespasses.”

Buzza then allegedly began to make her work and spiritual life difficult, often embarrassing her in front of the congregation during sermons.

In 2016, A.B. found work at another church as a pastor, and was required to take part in mandatory online training regarding clerical sexual abuse, triggering severe psychological distress, according to court filings.

A.B. alleges that she started to recognize the pattern of exploitation and grooming that Buzza had allegedly subjected her to, especially after reading victim statements from others who had been abused by clergy members.

In mid-January, 2022, with the support of her new congregation, A.B. wrote to Foursquare’s board of directors to report the abuse, request an independent investigation, and a re-examination of the organization’s policies around boundaries.

She met with Steve Falkiner, Foursquare’s president, who admitted that Buzza had confessed to his actions, according to the court filing.

Buzza was soon forced to resign, according to A.B’s civil claim.

A.B. alleged that she asked Falkiner to issue a clear and transparent statement regarding why Buzzaer was being removed from leadership, but within a week, Falkiner told her there would be no investigation into Buzza’s conduct, and that he could not tell her what the congregation would be told.

The plaintiff claimed that she was informed of a secret members-only meeting that took place at Northside Church a few days later, where Buzza was allowed to speak about what occurred.

At the meeting, “There was absolutely no admission of ‘abuse’ or ‘exploitation,’” the suit stated, adding that their relationship was framed as a consensual extra-martial affair.

Treating it like an extra-marital affair, “Falkiner publicly praised Buzza for the courage of his ‘confession’ and told the congregation that he forgives Buzza, and so does Jesus,” and shortly thereafter, the entire congregation held a meeting where they prayed for Buzza and his family, according to the court filing.

By this point the church had cut off all contact with A.B.

A.B. states that she continued to write to Falkiner to express her dissatisfaction with how they handled her complaint, specifically how it had re-victimized her after finding the courage to come forward.

In her last letter to the church dated July 4, 2022, A.B. expressed to the Church that they had given her abuser a voice and chosen to silence hers, preventing other victims from feeling safe when reporting clergy sexual abuse.

“It’s one thing to have your pastor devalue you through abuse, but to have an entire organization (who you still considered your family) devalue you … is beyond devastating,” the letter stated.

The lawsuit against the church alleges they caused her to experience “secondary victimization.”

We were unable to confirm whether a response to A.B.’s civil claim has been filed by either Mr. Buzza or the church. Per the Supreme Court Rules, the defendants have 21 days to file their response, counted from the day on which the defendants were served by the plaintiff.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch