December 13th, 2011
07:46 AM ET
By Dana Garrett, CNN
Senior Pastor Edwin Zeiders of St. Paul's Methodist Church in State College says he speaks to Sandusky every day, and will Tuesday, when Sandusky appeared for a preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse and waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
It was the first chance Sandusky's alleged victims could begin to publicly tell their stories.
Zeiders says Sandusky and his wife Dottie have been members of his church for about 30 years.
He has refused interview requests, but offered thoughts to CNN in an e-mail on Monday, a day before the hearing, and followed up by email on Tuesday confirming he had attended.
The pastor was careful not to take sides in the emotive case.
"All of our attention and energy is focused on those who are in need, those who are struggling to understand their circumstances and find their way through the wilderness of feelings, opinions, and hope," he said.
"These are difficult times for our community," he continued, "and for all of us who care deeply about the safety, health, and the suffering of others."
Zeiders said that pastors at St. Paul's "are providing care for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or abused, and do all we can to help them work through their pain and the reliving of those dreadful experiences."
"We continue to define the local congregation as a people of love and restoration, while giving witness and endless stream of mercy from our Lord and the forgiveness the opens the doorway to new life."
At a recent service, Zeiders preached a similar message of love and forgiveness, urging his parish to be "authentic Christians" in the wake of the sex abuse allegations against Sandusky.
"We are entrusted with the light of the world," Zeiders told his congregation. "We are the bearer of each others' burdens... (called) to care for each other as deeply as we can."
Neither Sandusky nor his wife Dottie have been to church since the charges were filed last month, parishioners said.
Asked after the service if Sandusky should be forgiven, even if the allegations against him are proved true, Zeiders said yes.
He quickly added that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor that people should not be held accountable.
Zeiders declined to say who initiated his daily contact with Sandusky and would not describe the content of their conversations.
A grand jury report says Sandusky molested young boys after developing close relationships with them through a charity he founded for at-risk youths.
Pennsylvania's attorney general charged Sandusky, 67, with 40 counts in what authorities allege was the sexual abuse of eight young boys over several years.
Some churchgoers said they were still in a state of shock about the accusations against Sandusky, which he has denied, and some said the charges don't jibe with the Sandusky they know.
They seemed mixed on the question of whether the congregation would welcome Sandusky back.
Before leaving the church on a recent Sunday, a member of the congregation gave a CNN reporter a coffee mug emblazoned with the name St. Paul's.
Inside was a card with the service schedule on one side and a message on the other: "Do you know that God's love can and does achieve great things, even amid the turmoil of today's world?"
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