Baptist teacher accused of bizarre abuse at defunct London, Ontario, school

LONDON, Ont. — The trial for a teacher accused of bizarre abuse at a defunct Baptist school began this week amid allegations of students standing at attention for hours on end, having facial hair plucked with pliers and a greeting that involved fondling the breasts of parishioners.

Royden Wood, a church pastor and teacher at the school, has pleaded not guilty to 10 assault charges, two sexual assault charges and one charge of sexual interference.

A man who is now 35 years old testified Tuesday about the alleged abuse he suffered as a boy at the alternative school which ran out of the basement of the Ambassador Baptist Church from about 1985 to 1987.

“We were statues,” Wood said in court. “We had been trained not to move.”

In his opening remarks, Crown attorney Peter Kierluk said three boys suffered excessive physical abuse involving assaults with fists and pliers, forced running of 50 to 60 laps around the church block and standing at attention for the entire school day.

Wood, who became the church’s head pastor in 1982, is defending himself at the trial. The sex charges point to “alleged odd practices in the church,” including the “Ambassador Handshake” — a greeting that involved fondling the breasts of parishioners as they arrived at the church, Kierluk said.

“There was a great deal of hugging going on in the congregation.”

One complainant maintains she was talking to Wood in 2002 when she was touched, Kierluk said. Wood made a comment about the size of her breasts, making it clear he was familiar with the breast sizes of other parishioners, he added.

The other female complainant was a minor between 1998 and 2003 when Wood, on a couple of occasions, reached out and hooked his fingers in the front of her bra and lifted it above her breasts, Kierluk told the court.

The 35-year-old man, whose identity is protected, testified he was one of about a dozen students pulled out of their elementary schools after church authorities grew dissatisfied with the schools.

Wood devised a self-control program that included ordering the boys to stand at attention, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the man said.

If they weren’t standing, they were running dozens of laps around the block, he said.

Alternately, he said, they were ordered each day to run to a coffee shop to fetch fresh doughnuts.

If they didn’t come back warm, there’d be more standing and Wood would hit them in the chest under the ribs with his knuckle, causing the boys to lose their breath, or punch them in the shoulders.

“Roy’s knuckles would get so red. So, he switched to a pair of vice grips,” he testified.

The abuse, he said, escalated to include plucking facial hair from the boys with pliers. The students were basically self-taught, he testified, sitting in cubicles and administering their own exams.

If they had a question, they were to raise their flag from their cubicle, he said, adding there were no report cards at the school.

The trial, which is being heard by judge alone and is expected to last two weeks, continues Thursday.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 14, 2008.
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