A former pastor of a Lutheran church in Belmont County was arraigned Friday on kidnapping and rape charges.
The charges of sexual misconduct against Peter Pilger, 36, include a period of time while he was pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Martins Ferry.
Pilger is accused of sexually abusing a girl over the past six years, including a year while he was pastor of the Martins Ferry church between 1999 and 2003.
After he left Martins Ferry, Pilger became pastor of churches in Massillon and New Albany, Ohio.
Stark County prosecutors filed the charges after the girl told her friends about the abuse and they encouraged her to tell her mother, a Canton newspaper reported.
Pilger has been in the Stark County Jail since his arrest on July 2.
The current pastor of the Martins Ferry church said his congregation had two different reactions when they heard the news about Pilger.
"(They either said), 'I really don't believe it,' or 'I always thought he was strange,'" said Philip Van Dam, pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church.
An official with the Northeast Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church said council members voted to terminate Pilger in April, then voted to terminate him last week, meaning he is no longer a pastor.
Allegations of sexual abuse against a former Martins Ferry pastor came to light during a child's sleepover confession, according to reports.
Peter Pilger, 36, of Warren, Ohio, will be arraigned today in Stark County Common Pleas Court on multiple charges of rape, kidnapping and gross sexual imposition, according to a spokeswoman in the Stark County Prosecutor's Office.
Pilger was arrested July 2 on allegations he sexually abused a female family member who is now 12 years old over the course of as many as six years. Reports indicate the allegations came to light in April, when the alleged victim made the claims to friends while playing a game called "Deep Dark Secrets." Those friends encouraged the alleged victim to tell her mother of the abuse.
Pilger was installed April 6 as the pastor of the Faith Lutheran Church in Massillon, Ohio, just days before the allegations were made. He served from 2003-2007 at a New Albany, Ohio, church and from 1999-2003 as pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Martins Ferry.
On Thursday, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said Pilger was placed on administrative leave when the allegations against him were made. After Pilger refused to resign his post, the congregation voted to terminate his call.
"We are shocked and deeply saddened by this," Eaton said. "This is a terrible thing. It's extremely serious, and we have zero tolerance for sexual misconduct. It's always the hope the church is a safe place, especially for children. It's sad when something like this happens to a child, especially by a member of the church."
On Thursday, the Rev. Philip Van Dam, current pastor of St. John's in Martins Ferry, said there were no allegations of sexual misconduct against Pilger during his time in Martins Ferry or his prior tenure at a church in Montana.
The Stark County prosecutor's spokeswoman said Pilger faces a first-degree felony count of rape, three counts of second-degree felony attempted rape, a felony charge of kidnapping and multiple counts of gross sexual imposition.
Tony Dalayanis, Pilger's attorney, could not be reached Thursday for comment.