Apr 6, 2016

Spanking pastor Howard Curtis, 73, of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, facing jail after being found guilty of sexual assault at Coulsdon Christian Fellowship

Daniel O'Mahony
Sutton Guardian
March 29, 2016

Howard Curtis
Howard Curtis
An evangelical pastor who led his church as "cult" is facing jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting female parishioners.

Howard Curtis, 73, former senior minister at Coulsdon Christian Fellowship (CCF), spanked “completely naked” women in his congregation as part of a doctrine known as "Christian Domestic Discipline".

During a trial at Croydon Crown Court, Curtis claimed the assaults - which included “hitting or tapping his victims in the genitals” - formed part of a mental health treatment inspired by a “spiritual” interpretation of the Bible.

On Thursday a jury unanimously found Mr Curtis guilty of seven counts of sexually assaulting a female and one count of child cruelty during his time at the CCF between the early 1980s and July 2013.

Curtis, now of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, was cleared of five further counts of assaulting a child as well as one count of assaulting a female over 13 by penetration.

During the four-week trial the jury heard evidence from a former CCF parishioner who said Curtis had physically restrained women during private "counselling sessions" intended to deliver his worshippers from "evil spirits".

The witness recounted an occasion when Curtis whispered "I could turn you on" while giving her a neck massage. She also described how the pastor had spanked the bottom of a three-year old boy after shouting the child was a "defiant spirit looking at him".

Another former church member told the jury that family members had urged her to leave CCF, in Chipstead Valley Road.

But she said: “When you’re in a cult you don’t realise you’re in a cult until years after you’ve left and you look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I leave years ago?’ Cross-examining Curtis, prosecutor Toby Fitzgerald said there was “no other Christian doctrine [that] requires or allows the pastor of a church to smack the bare bottoms of adult female members of its congregation”.

Curtis agreed, but cited an interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament as justification for the doctrine.

He added: “Just because you and other people don’t think it’s right doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to believe it. Otherwise it’s against freedom of religion."

The pastor promoted the doctrine in his later years at the church. But he admitted that his wife had not agreed to it as part of their own marriage.

Asked about a parishioner he was said to have forced to submit to spanking, the former pastor said: “She wanted to experience to see if it helped her with her depression – which it actually did. The woman feels very relaxed and very free.

"It reduces the tension – I don’t really understand why but that’s what happens."

Curtis will be sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on April 22.


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