Amsey W. Bearinger

Ontario Old Order Mennonite elder convicted for assaulting children and adults

Amsey Bearinger (1924–2022), a farmer and former elder in the Old Order Mennonite church in Ontario, Canada, assaulted at least 14 children and two adults, both male and female, between 1967 and 1986. The Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online notes that in 1967, Amsey Bearinger and his family were the first Old Order Mennonites to move to the Mount Forest area.

According to The Record (Kitchener, Ontario), the investigation began when a 35-year-old man “told authorities … that when he was eight, Bearinger reached into his shirt and fondled him while they were driving a tractor. When the boy swam at a nearby swimming hole, Bearinger would dry him off while touching him all over his body.” The prosecutor said that similar incidents occurred with other boys at the swimming hole.

The man told the court that “he was severely traumatized by his experience and [had] twice tried to end his life. ‘I believed myself to be unworthy,’ he said. ‘I [felt] dirty and ashamed, scared for being such a weak individual.’ The man said he questioned whether he was homosexual, who he would tell and what he would say because Bearinger was a pillar in the Mennonite community.”

A police officer told the court that most of the victims were aged 16 or younger at the time of the assaults, and that some victims were abused several times over a number of years, saying, “Every opportunity where [Bearinger] was around young people, he would sexually assault them.” Other victims reported that Bearinger abused them after hiring them to work on his farm.

Reporting by The Record indicates that the church knew about the sexual assaults for at least two years and apparently did not report them to law enforcement. Bearinger’s son told the newspaper that his father had “repented for his sins and decided to stop his behavior on his own.” Bearinger’s lawyer added that Bearinger had “already paid a price within the community by being excommunicated from the local church,” indicating that Bearinger had been allowed to attend church events but was required to eat at a separate table.

The judge responded to Bearinger’s supporters, who wrote letters quoting Bible verses and asking for no jail time, by saying, “I’m not dealing with Amsey Bearinger’s sin. … When a man abuses a child, he can affect that child for the rest of his life. For a momentary sexual gratification, he unleashes a lifetime of suffering. And for what? Whether he’s a member of the Mennonite community or not, the court must make it clear that there are punitive consequences.”

The judge reminded church members that “authorities have an obligation to report any offenses against children so others don’t suffer.” He also stated that “there’s no greater crime than a crime against a defenseless, helpless, trusting child,” saying that’s why the information about the case must be public.

Bearinger pleaded guilty to 17 criminal counts: 14 counts of indecent assault, two counts of sexual assault, and one count of gross indecency. He was sentenced to two years in jail in 2006, and in 2008, in a subsequent civil case, he was ordered to pay compensation to a man who had been eight years old when Bearinger began assaulting him.

Bearinger died in 2022.

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