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Sunday, April 20, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor found guilty of abuse

Twelve criminal convictions for abusing members of his former flock hit ex-Baptist pastor Royden Wood of London Ontario like a shot to the gut.

"Needless to say, we're stunned," Wood, 57, former senior pastor of the now-defunct Ambassador Baptist Church, said on the steps of the London courthouse yesterday, his wife Linda at his side.

"For those who wanted revenge, may they be blessed in their revenge," he added.

Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton ruled yesterday Wood was guilty of 12 of 13 charges. They included nine involving physical assaults on three boys, members of the conservative church's alternative school from 1985 to 1987, and three sex-related charges involving two female congregants.

The decision came after a bizarre trial in which the former church leader defended himself without a lawyer.

Asked outside court if he thought he was guilty, Wood replied "I absolutely do not."

"Once they get a roll on, you know, some people have to hurt people," he said.

The trial sometimes appeared to take on the feeling of an investigation on what was happening inside the church at Adelaide and King streets.

"It is Mr. Wood on trial, not the Ambassador Baptist Church, notwithstanding to some, the two entities may have seemed to be one in the same," Templeton said in her decision.

Templeton said she didn't believe Wood's denial that he pulled the bra up over a teen's breasts twice, or grabbed the breast of another woman and commented on its size.

And she said she didn't believe Wood when he said the physical assaults on the boys were merely horseplay and part of a program to teach self-control and discipline.

She called the program "behaviour modification through violence" that was "both shocking and criminal."

"I fail to understand how any method of treating a child akin to a punching bag can, in any way, be interpreted as reasonable in the process of enhancing the child's self control and self esteem," she said.

Now men, the boys -- Richard Howell, 34, Norman Howell, 36, and John Milonas, 35, -- were 12 to 14 when the "self-control program" started.

They described running around the block numerous times, and standing at attention for hours at the school.

Most alarming were the descriptions of having hair pulled out of their upper lips with pliers, the use of knuckles, then pliers, to endlessly tap on their shoulder blades, hits to the solar plexus, arm locks and the "basement treatment" -- punches to the stomach.

Templeton said she believed them and rejected Wood's assertion it was "a program of discipleship not discipline," similar to military or football training.

"This was not a game, this was not a sport," she said.

Wood was acquitted of a charge of assault on Richard Howell with a belt.

Templeton said Wood was teaching the boys a lesson "about his authority, power and control" rather than "the benefits of self-control."

When reviewing the sexual charges, Templeton said there was unusual behaviour at the church among young women who undid each other's bras and grabbed each other in play with what was called the "Ambassador handshake."

Templeton noted the testimony of one woman who said Wood "always made light of breasts" and wanted girls to know their breasts "were not taboo."

Wood flatly denied touching the women.

"I do not believe Mr. Wood," Templeton said.

Richard Howell, speaking for all three men, said they were "extremely happy" and "greatly thankful" for Templeton's decision.

"Having a family of five myself, what he's done is absolutely wrong. I would never in no way harm my kids in the way he harmed myself."

Lead London police investigator Cons. Glenn Hadley said the trial was stressful for the witnesses.

"At the end of the day, they were very satisfied with the outcome and there is going to be a lot of weight off their shoulders now," he said.

Wood said he never thought he was breaking the law, and that money and lawsuits motivated the charges.

"It's behaviour that I don't understand. I guess maybe lawsuit money means that much to people," he said.

And plucking hairs out of a lip, he said, is no big deal. Women do it "all the time."

"I guess every adult now can't horse around with anybody under 14 unless they have a written statement or something. I don't know what else to say," he said.

Wood said he had no regrets representing himself because a defence lawyer would have cost him $100,000 to $150,000 and wiped him out financially.

But members of the church said Wood re-mortgaged a house the church owned for $100,000 and the church was paying the mortgage until it closed last fall.

Wood has no plans to appeal. "I'm just going to take my lumps," he said. "If they send me to jail, great I'll rest."

Wood said he's "struggling very badly with depression" and won't be able to work unless a new medication is found. "So none of this hurts me much anyway," he said.

Wood is to be sentenced June 13.