Former Thompson pastor charged with sexual assault
Letter to congregation urges them to alert RCMP of other possible violations
The former pastor of the Thompson Christian Centre Fellowship has been charged with sexual assault, and church leadership is urging other potential victims to come forward.
RCMP arrested Arnie Wayne Pedersen last November for an alleged sexual assault that occurred in July, according to court documents. Pedersen was no longer working at the church at that time.
In mid-December, leadership of the church in Thompson, Man., along with the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (MBCM), issued a letter to the three dozen congregants of the church alerting them to Pedersen's criminal charge.
"If you believe that some form of misconduct perpetrated by Mr. Pederson — be it sexual or otherwise — has occurred to you or someone under your care, please let us know Immediately," the letter reads. "We would invite you to communicate any such acts to us and encourage you to inform the local RCMP detachment."
This was Pedersen's first stint as a lead pastor, the start of a new career after years working as an accountant in southern Ontario. He was in his 60s when he graduated with a master of arts degree from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRCDS) in Rochester, New York.
Record checks came back clean
"Our churches are very proactive in trying to protect people. When we find out that something happened in one of our churches we are proactive in extending to victims and giving them as much help as we can," Elton DaSilva, executive director of MBCM, said in an interview.
He says Mennonite churches protect their members with a safe-place policy that requires background checks with police, child abuse registry and vulnerable person registry.
Pedersen's eight-month term as pastor started in October 2016. The congregation took him on before he had achieved his credentials from the MBCM — something that is not unusual, especially for churches in remote locations.
"We were in a process of working through credentialing when we found some untrue statements that he had made, so a misrepresentation is basically what is the case here and we could not proceed with that credentialing," DaSilva said.
John Unger stepped in as interim pastor to replace Pedersen. He noted Pedersen was not employed by the church when the alleged assault occurred.
We do not endorse Mr. Pedersen's involvement in ministry or pastoral care.- Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba
"[Pedersen] was released last summer, long before this [RCMP] complaint was filed," said Unger. "He was terminated."
CBC News obtained a copy of an email that was prepared by MBCM for churches asking for references after Pedersen was let go. It states "Arnie Pedersen is not affiliated with or a member in good standing of Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (MBCM). Nor is Mr. Pedersen a credentialed pastor."
The note goes on to say "at this time we do not endorse Mr. Pedersen's involvement in ministry or pastoral care."
The small congregation in Thompson is left to pick up the pieces, and the MBCM has been working to help everyone affected, Unger says.
"They have supported the victim during the complaint process, they have provided professional counselling on an ongoing basis and have also had conversations with church leaders and the congregation about what happens when there are allegations of clergy sexual abuse," he said.
Neither Pedersen's lawyer, Tyrone Krawetz, nor Pedersen himself responded to requests for comment. The next court date is March 16.
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- An earlier version of the story quoted an email from Michele Kaider-Korol, communications co-ordinator, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRCDS) which stated “no degree was granted” to Arnie Pedersen. In an email Tuesday, the school confirmed that Arnie Pedersen did in fact receive an MA from CRCDS. “I regret the error,” wrote Kaider-Korol.Mar 06, 2018 3:49 PM CT