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Pastor: I gave boys ‘holy spankings’

Associated Press, USA
Nov. 3, 2003 • Monday November 3, 2003

November 3, 2003 — NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Rev. Walter Oliver believes that God is on his side.

If not, Oliver could face up to 30 years in prison.

Oliver is charged with two counts each of assault and risk of injury to a minor for beating two child parishioners of his former church in New Haven. Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin this week.

He freely admits he beat the boys, who were 11 and 12 at the time. They were beatings in Jesus’ name, he said, and carried out with love according to the adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

“I call it a ‘Holy Spanking’ – that’s God’s mandate to keep law and order,” Oliver said in an interview last week.

He said he was acting with the permission of their mother in his official capacity as the children’s pastor.

He hit the boys several times on the bare buttocks with a black leather belt. The boys were not bloodied or seriously injured; prosecutors said the beatings left marks, an allegation Oliver denies.

Prosecutor Brian Sibley said religious freedom is “an outside issue” and not a legitimate defense for Oliver.

It also doesn’t matter that Oliver was their minister, Sibley said. Oliver would face charges if he were the boys’ father, he said.

“We’re treating this like any other child abuse case,” Sibley said.

Oliver, 66, is a native of New Haven and comes from a family of religious leaders. He said his parents were strict and pushed him and his two brothers to hard work. When the boys misbehaved at home or at school, they were spanked.

Spanking is widely discouraged by doctors and child-care experts. The practice hurts and humiliates children and teaches them to use violence to solve their problems, said Dr. Kyle Pruett, professor of child psychology and nursing at the Yale Child Study Center.

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