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Alleged victim claims she met with church leader

Christian Family Church, sex, scandal, pastor, owatonna
CFC pastors deny knowledge of abuse
By
Kay Fate, Staff Writer
“I had been blamed for it.”
-Sierra Krause, Alleged Sex Victim

Someone is lying, that much is true.

As stories of alleged abuse at Christian Family Church in Owatonna emerge – two are public now, including one with accompanying criminal charges – the descriptions of what reportedly happened diverge.

Luverne Zacharias, 46, a former teacher, principal, youth pastor, and campus pastor at the church and its affiliated private school, faces multiple felony counts for allegedly sexually assaulting a minor from 2005-2009.

When the alleged victim, now an adult, went to law enforcement in 2022, church leaders claimed to know of just two incidents:

“Inappropriate text messages” with an 18-year-old in 2011, and “a couple of quick hugs from behind” with a 15-year-old in 2006. Both reportedly involved Zacharias but with different females.

Tim and Cherrie Peterson, lead pastors at the church, told Owatonna Police Department investigators they had never been told of any potentially abusive behavior to minors.

It is a claim they repeated to the Steele County Times.

In response to a request for comment for a story in March, Tim Peterson wrote:

“Aside from the notice received from law enforcement in late 2022, we have never been presented with allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, so we have never had occasion to initiate a report.”

He repeated the claim six more times in the email, adding “the call from the detective (about Zacharias) was our very first notice of any allegation of sexual abuse against a minor within our church’s 43-year history.”

Peterson then went on to say that “we have fully cooperated with law enforcement.”

Documentation

The Times has heard from four people who dispute those facts; three of them have provided legal, corroborating information.

A fourth alleged victim is awaiting the outcome of an investigation before she speaks publicly.

Sierra Krause, now 31, said she was groomed and assaulted by an adult member of the church who had been given authority over the youth.

He has not been criminally charged, but the Times has acquired court documents that indicate someone at Christian Family Church was aware of an inappropriate relationship between Krause, then 16, and the 34-year-old married man – who is named in all the documents.

In a Waseca County Court filing that granted a harassment restraining order to Krause’s mom, Judge Larry Collins wrote that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Respondent has engaged in harassment of Petitioner’s minor child …” then goes on to list the behavior.

It followed a nearly year-long series of hidden meetups between the adult and Krause.

The Court also wrote that the ruling vacated previous “oral orders regarding (the man’s) presence at the Christian Family Church and El Shaddai Private School.”

The ruling was dated July 22, 2010.

It was at least the second time church leaders were made aware of inappropriate contact: Seven months earlier, Krause and the man had been discovered parked outside a farm site in Waseca County.

A Waseca County Sheriff’s Office report identifies the driver as the man from the church; Krause’s information is redacted, because she was a minor at the time.

Her parents are named, and they have confirmed to the Times that a deputy contacted her father about finding the two together.

Meetings

The Petersons were also contacted, Krause said, though she isn’t sure who informed them.

After learning she and the man were found in a compromising position by law enforcement, Krause and her parents were asked to meet with the pastors.

“It was definitely more shaming of me than asking, ‘Sierra, how can we help you? How can we walk through this?’ I don’t ever remember feeling like they cared about how I was feeling,” Krause said.

She believes the Petersons also met with the man, and possibly his wife, but doesn’t know for sure.

The inappropriate relationship rekindled a couple of months later, when the man slipped a prepaid cell phone into Krause’s coat pocket at church, she said.

The two continued to meet in secret, sending each other intimate texts and photos.

The man’s wife discovered the texts in June 2010 – and apparently shared the information with the Petersons.

Krause and her parents were called to another meeting, this time with both pastors and the church board at CFC – at least 10 people, she said.

“I remember sitting with the board, all of us around the big table,” she said. “They asked questions, and I told them what they wanted to hear, basically.”

What did they want to hear?

Krause said she was asked to repent, to apologize and to “verbalize what I did, in general. Like, ‘I realize me being with (the man) was wrong, it was a sin …’

“They said if it happened again, I would need to stand in front of the whole congregation and tell them what I did, and apologize,” she said. “I would need to make a public announcement.”

Krause said she was told she needed to go to counseling – “we both had to,” she said of the man, “but I feel like they handled us two different ways at two different times.”

There was no mention of contacting law enforcement.

“All of these people on the board knew what had happened,” Krause said. “They knew there was a relationship between (the man) and I, and it was inappropriate enough for them to be involved.”

The fallout

After their respective meetings with the Petersons and board members, Krause’s mother wanted to go to the police, but her daughter refused, fearing it would lead to more criticism from the church.

After all, she said, “I had been blamed for it.”

Instead, church leaders attempted a schedule of sorts, to deal with how Krause and the man could both continue to attend CFC.

“They said we’d just have to be there together and avoid each other – or we’d have to decide who would be there,” she said. “It was really like giving us free rein to be with each other if we wanted to, but their ‘solution’ was to split the Sundays.”

Krause likened it to a “custody arrangement of church activities. I remember only being able to go every other Sunday,” she said. “I felt like I was getting kicked out of my church, and away from my friends, and away from what should have been putting me back together, but that was their solution to ‘heal’ both of us.”

Her mother filed for the restraining order.

The Petersons, Krause said, told her because the church is privately owned, “they didn’t have to accept the order – it wouldn’t stand there.”

That is untrue; if the man had violated any of the HRO terms while at the church, anyone present could have called police, and it would have been addressed legally.

Truth dispute

“My biggest thing with Tim and Cherrie is, they knew about the first incident (with the deputy) and they knew about the second incident (with the phones), and they still didn’t go to the police,” Krause said.

“Even if (my family) chose not to, they still should’ve gone to the police – you help the ones who can’t help themselves right now, because they’re stuck,” she said. “They never, never did that. They never reached out to me like they should have, or when they should have.”

So, are the Petersons’ claims of ignorance of inappropriate behavior with minors true?

“No,” Krause said. “Absolutely not.”

In fact, she said, when a second man – Zacharias – reportedly tried to engage her in sexual activity after she turned 18, she also reported that to her pastors.

Their first reaction, she said, was to accuse her.

“They wanted to know if I instigated it,” Krause said. “They asked if I was flirting with him. They asked to see my phone, and they made copies of the (text) messages. They said, ‘what did you do to make him ask these questions? Did you provoke him?’ It was like an interrogation – and I thought I was doing the right thing.”

Though Zacharias allegedly admitted to sending the texts, that was little comfort to Krause and her father.

 “My dad and I never talked about it (again),” she said. “Because pastors know best, right?”

The Petersons did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

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