Howard Curtis, 73, above, a pastor at the Coulsdon Christian Fellowship in Greater London, has been jailed for six years for assaulting two woman and two children.
Croydon Crown Court heard that Curtis – “a genuinely religious and spiritual man” – ran a “cult” in which “spiritual discipline” was used to strip victims naked and spank them. He claimed his methods it would cure depression, boost their sex lives and drive out evil spirits. He even spanked a woman’s genitalia.
In jailing Curtis, who was convicted of six counts of sexual assault and two of child cruelty, Judge Peter Gower QC said:
These are serious offences involving a gross abuse of trust that was bestowed on you in your position in the church. Immediate custody is inevitable.
Referring to the experience of one victim, the judge said:
You got [her] to take down her trousers and pants and lie forward onto the stairs and then beat her repeatedly with the palm of your hand. She said you did it 20-30 times with full force, causing her to become upset and bruising her badly.
You convinced her into thinking what you were doing was in her best interest and it was in a spiritual basis.
In practice it was sexual abuse performed for your own gratification.
Another victim he repeatedly spanked, claiming it was “Christian domestic discipline”, to punish her for what he perceived was a lack of femininity and also to apparently improve her sex life.
Judge Gower said:
You put forward different reasons for doing what you did which included the untidiness of her flat, her own untidiness, and her lack of femininity.
The judge said Curtis smacked the woman’s private parts telling her:
It would release a frigid spirit from inside her. The final occasion to which you disciplined her was on the first of July, 2013. On that occasion you beat her harder than you had done before and carried on after she told you to stop, reducing her to tears.
He also spanked two churchgoers’ children, bruising one of them, for which he was found guilty of child cruelty.
Judge Gower also described how Curtis turned a child “black and blue” after smacking him in an attempt to stop him crying without the mum’s consent.
It wasn’t until later when the mother went to change his nappy when she saw red marks under that nappy that turned into black and blue bruises over the next days.
During the trial Curtis tried to justify the spankings by citing the bizarre example of Smith Wigglesworth, a Victorian Pentecostal “faith healer”.
Wigglesworth, who died in 1947, claimed to be able to cure cancer by punching sufferers.
In mitigation, Julia Flanagan said:
He is in many respects a genuinely religious and spiritual man. It’s how he has lived his life. He wants me to say to the court he is sorry his actions have caused harm or upset to anybody.
He was cleared of one count of actual bodily harm, two counts of indecent assault, two counts of assault on a child and one count of sexual assault.
Curtis, of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, south London, was also cleared of a charge of assault by penetration.