A church minister used the Bible to justify spanking vulnerable women on their bare bottoms to satisfy his own sexual desires, a court heard today.
Howard Curtis, 72, former senior minister of the Coulsdon Christian Fellowship, south London, allegedly ran a "cult" where grown women were persuaded to strip naked so he could spank them over his knee for his own pleasure.
Married Curtis and his "inner circle" used "unorthodox" teachings to instill discipline and drive out evil spirits in both women and children who had come to him for help, it is said.
His abuse of their trust continued as he moved "from one woman to another" and his confidence grew, Croydon Crown Court heard.
Curtis, who left his role as a senior minister at the independent Baptist church in June 2013, is faces 12 charges involving seven victims.
The former leader of the church, a role he left in May 2012, is charged with five counts of cruelty to children under 16 years of age, two counts of indecent assault, and four of sexual assault.
Additionally he faces one count of assault by penetration, while the offences are said to have occurred between January 1969 and July 2013.
Jane Osborne, prosecuting, said: "Howard Curtis was the pastor of a religious body, or organisation, called the Coulson Christian Fellowship, and had been in that position for some time.
"The church had a small congregation that followed him. In more recent years he had become more independent of any religious body, and was the church was effectively run by him.
"It was run and administered on a full-time basis by the defendant, his wife Marilyn, as well as his inner circle - part of a close-knit structure.
"In reality he ran this organisation much more like a cult within a church."
Ms Osborne continued: "The background to this case focusses around this defendant, the church he was involved in and the people who attended that church over the years.
"This case is in very broad terms about the abuse by this defendant of the trust placed in him by vulnerable people who attended his church.
"It is also about the abuse of women and children - in the case of the women, abuse that was for his own pleasure.
"What you are going to hear is how a number of grown women, already vulnerable when they came to his church from domestic and sexual abuse, financial desperation and depression, came to the defendant for help.
"But when they did so they were taken advantage of by him. When each of those women sought his help, he offered it to them.
"He suggested he would be able to counsel them and they believed he was an experienced and seasoned counsellor.
"What in fact took place was an abuse of the trust they had placed in him.
"He would spank them over their bare bottoms, getting them to strip naked during the counselling under the guise of helping them get over their former abuse."
Jurors heard Curtis would also smack children in his congregation excessively, "but not in a way to warn or chastise them.
"He would put them over his knee and hit them hard until they cried and, in some cases, marks appeared, in what the Crown would say amounted to cruelty", Ms Osborne continued.
"His teachings were unorthodox: there would be Bible studies led by him and he would interpret the wording of the studies to suit his own purposes.
"He would conduct something known as 'deliverance ministry', said to be casting out evil spirits from a person, and he would tell people that discipline needed to be administered to people, in particular to women.
"This would be done by striking flesh with a bare hand.
"It was from those teachings that he used to subject those women who had come forward for help to his abuse.
"The defendant effectively moved from one person to the other, taking advantage of them for his own pleasure.
"His confidence and level of abuse grew as he discovered these women were unlikely to complain about what he did."
The court was told Curtis also had a "vision, a message from God" that he would establish a church with 1,000 members in Cane Hill psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon, south London.
Hard-of-hearing Curtis, wore a dark suit and grey tie today and was aided by a pair of headphones, while he was supported by his wife who sat in the public gallery.
Curtis, of Wallington, south London, denies all charges.
The trial continues.
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