Rev. David Woodall of St. David's United Church.
Credits: Heather Rivers
GODERICH, ON — A United Church minister said he forked over $26,000 to a man accusing him of childhood sexual abuse to keep the allegations from going public.
"False allegations of sexual abuse when they go forward destroy people's lives," said David Woodall, 56, at his Superior Court trial.
Woodall, the former executive secretary of the London, Ont., Conference of the United Church of Canada, flatly denied Wednesday morning he sexually abused two boys by putting his hand down their sleeping bags. The boys were at a sleepover at a Clinton, Ont., church two decades ago.
He said he didn't remember either boy at one of the Clinton church's youth group annual sleepover between 1991 and 1993.
He denied undressing down to his underwear in front of the participants and wasn't aware of the two men until one of them started to email Woodall in March 2008 and demand payment or be reported to the church and the police.
Woodall said he immediately set up a meeting at a park on the same day he received the email from the man, whose identity is protected by court order.
"I was actually flabbergasted," he said after the initial encounter with the man where he gave him $1,000. "I felt like I was somehow going to have to deal with (the man) and what he had to say."
Woodall said through questions from defence lawyer Brian Chambers that he believed he had "no choice" but to deal with the man or else lose his job and reputation.
He said he didn't go to the police because "when (the allegations) become public, my life is destroyed. That's a high price to go to the police."
"My life was crumbling. I felt I was walking over my own grave, so to speak."
After paying the man a further $20,000, Woodall "thought that was it."
But three months later where was a further demand for a $5,000 loan. Woodall came through with the money and had the man sign a loan agreement and a second document that said the man agreed the claims weren't true.
When the man made further demands for $20,000 in October 2008 through a flurry of emails and phone calls, Woodall said he made up his mind not to pay.
Over the next month, he finished up projects, told the church and his family about the man's communications and sought legal advice.
Then, he went to the London police.
The police gave Woodall two options: have the man charged with extortion and be prepared to be charged with sexual assault, or have the police talk to the man and contact Revenue Canada.
Woodall chose to have the man charged.
"In the beginning I thought I was locked into dealing with it," he said.
"By October I thought clearly I'm wrong and clearly this guy is not going away and I need to be prepared to pay the cost to make him go away."
He only heard about the second man who claimed to be abused from the police when he was arrested.
But in cross examination by Crown attorney Teresa Donnelly, Woodall admitted he was acting against the United Church's sexual abuse policy when he didn't tell his bosses about the allegations.
The church, Donnelly pointed out, would have investigated the claims, and, if they were false, would have made "faithful efforts to restore a reputation in the community."
Woodall never said in his emails to the man that he was innocent. The language, Donnelly pointed out, spoke of the man's "courage" and Woodall's invitation to lunch.
Woodall said he was trying to keep the communication positive.
But Donnelly wanted to know why Woodall would use words like "closure" and wanting to "square things."
Woodall told Donnelly, "don"t read too much into it."
Asked why the man wasn't given a revised copy of the document denying the claims, Woodall said he didn't have time to print a second copy at his office before the meeting and "those documents were more for my peace of mind."
In subsequent emails before Woodall went to the police, the man referred to himself as a "victim" and that he knew a second man who had made "a serious suicide attempt."
Both complainants were sitting in the courtroom. When Donnelly read that portion of the emails, the second man named in the case wiped away tears.
Cross-examination continues Wednesday afternoon.