WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
Three women who attended a private Saskatoon Christian school and attached church allege they were sexually abused by a Sunday school teacher in the ’90s when they were four to seven years old.
They say the alleged abuser, Nathan Schultz, stole their innocence and forced them to live with a deep sense of guilt and shame for many years. They say they’re also angry at school and church officials who appear to have known about the allegations.
Schultz is one of nearly two dozen named defendants in a $25-million proposed class action lawsuit, which claims sexual abuse was perpetrated — and covered up — by multiple officials at Christian Centre Academy and Saskatoon Christian Centre church, now known as Legacy Christian Academy and Mile Two Church.
The women who CBC News interviewed have all gone to police with their allegations and are part of the proposed class action lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed following a CBC News investigation into allegations against school and church officials by more than 30 students of widespread physical abuse, solitary confinement, exorcisms and forced political campaigning.
None of the allegations have been proven in court. A statement of defence has yet to be filed.
Schultz’s parents were “elders” with the church and are also named in the lawsuit. His father was the director of the school when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Church and school officials were informed of the alleged abuse at least three times, according to victims, parents and an email sent from an elder and obtained by CBC News.
The women who are coming forward also say Schultz’s parents ought to have known about sexual abuse allegations, given that they were top officials.
‘I have something for you in my pocket’
Caitlin Erickson, who attended the school and church for 13 years until 2005 and is one of the lawsuit plaintiffs, says Schultz sexually abused her when she was six or seven years old and he was 16 or 17.
During children’s church on Sundays, Schultz was “always the guy that would volunteer to take the girls to the bathroom,” Erickson recalls.
There was an equipment room along the hallway that went to the bathroom, Erickson says.
She says Schultz took her to that room three times.
The first time, Schultz stood in front of the door and asked her if she wanted to see what was in his pockets, Erickson says.
Erickson says she refused and then he let her go to the bathroom.
The second time, Schultz gave her candy and told her, “you’re being such a good girl,” Erickson says.
Then the last time, Schultz stood in front of the door for about 15 to 20 minutes, Erickson says.
“He said, ‘I have something for you in my pocket,'” Erickson recalls.
She says he asked her to reach into his pocket, but she repeatedly said no and that she wanted to leave.
“He made it very apparent he was not going to let me out of the room if I didn’t reach into his pocket,” Erickson said.
“He was much much bigger than me and I was very fearful of him.”
When she reached into his pocket, she realized he had cut it out and her hand touched his penis, she says. She immediately pulled her hand away. That incident is included in the lawsuit statement of claim.
“After that I would not go to the bathroom when I was at church,” Erickson said.
Schultz is no longer employed with the school or church. He did not respond to requests for comment. CBC went to his home in Saskatoon three times but he wasn’t there. A letter outlining the allegations in detail was left in his mailbox.
CBC also tried contacting him multiple times through his parents and neighbour.
‘He made it like a game’
Another woman, who CBC News agreed not to name, says Schultz sexually abused her in the equipment room of the building that houses the school and church.
She says the incidents happened from 1992 to 1994, when she was four to six years old and Schultz was 14 to 16.
A school document obtained by CBC News shows Schultz was listed as a babysitter for students.
The woman says that when Schultz babysat her and her brothers at their home, he’d let them eat an entire container of Double Bubble gum. Looking back, she says “I feel like that was part of me being groomed.”
At the church, Schultz would take her to the equipment room and put Life Savers candy and mints on and around his penis and have her “find it” with her hands, she says.
She says it happened multiple times.
“It felt like he made it like a game. It was kind of this enticing thing that he’d try to do to make it a game with candy being the reward,” she said.
The woman’s allegations are also included in the statement of claim.
Woman says abuse happened on parents’ property
Another former student, whose parents held high positions at the church, says Schultz sexually abused her on her parents’ property when she was around six years old and he was 17.
CBC News agreed not to name her.
She recalls Schultz helping out with yard work on her parents’ property and that on occasion she would be left alone with him.
She recounts one occasion where they were sitting in a truck. She says he put candy in his underwear “like it was a game” and had her take it out with her hands and mouth.
She remembers him using his shirt to wipe chocolate off her face.
“That’s probably one of my earliest memories in life and something that I had to carry with me alone,” she told CBC News.
Officials aware of alleged sexual abuse
School and church officials appear to have known of allegations of Schultz’s sexual abuse at least three times over the years.
CBC News obtained an email dated last year from an elder who said he became aware “a few years ago” of allegations that Schultz got girls to take candy from his penis.
The elder did not respond to CBC’s request for an interview and did not provide specifics about when he heard of the allegations and who told him.
The woman who alleges she was abused in the equipment room says she told her parents of the alleged sexual abuse in 1998, when she was 10 years old.
Her mother and father tell CBC that they informed a senior church official.
They say his response to the news was, “Oh my God, not another one.”
They say the official told them that another girl’s family had left the church over similar allegations and that the church was handling it. They say he told them to keep quiet so as not to interfere with what they were doing.
CBC contacted the official multiple times by phone and text message, but he didn’t respond.
Schultz sent away
In 1999, Schultz — then an adult — was sent to Canaan Land, a bible training centre just outside of Big River, Sask., about 190 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.
CBC News spoke to two former students who attended Canaan Land, including one who was Schultz’s roommate there.
They describe it as a heavily controlled environment with a strict schedule and routine that included prayer and devotions, chores and school work. They say they were only allowed to watch certain television programs, weren’t allowed to listen to the radio and could only phone their parents once a week.
Schultz returned to the school and church a few years later, when Erickson and the other women were teenagers. The former student who says Schultz abused her in the equipment room says she “completely lost it” when she saw he had returned.
“I went back and forth between having panic attacks and being completely shut down,” she said.
She says Schultz tried to have a casual conversation with her at church.
Erickson recalls the woman confiding in her about what allegedly occurred.
Erickson says she told her school counsellor that Nathan had allegedly abused her friend and was called into the office of a top school official the next day.
She says the official screamed at her for “spreading lies” about Schultz and his family. He then invited Schultz’s parents to the meeting, she says. Erickson also detailed this meeting in her police statement.
She says she was told to not speak about this again and was threatened that she’d be kicked out of school if she did.
She says she also had to apologize to Schultz’s parents.
“Going against somebody who was considered in a position of leadership was just something you weren’t supposed to do,” Erickson said.
“It was really the perfect storm for any sort of perpetrator to come in and abuse children.”
She says she was afraid to speak up about her own experience because she was often called “not credible” or a “bad apple” by staff at the school.
She says she thought bringing up her friend’s experience would lead officials to take the situation more seriously — and was disheartened by the result.
Neither the school official nor Schultz’s parents returned interview requests.
‘What happened to us was not OK’
All three women, who are now in their early 30s, say it’s taken years to process what happened with Schultz.
“It’s shaped my whole life. It’s shaped my worldview. It happened at such a young, formative time of my life,” said one woman.
Another woman says she directly links the alleged abuse perpetrated by Schultz to an abusive relationship she had in her adult life.
“Everything about that relationship fed into the trauma I already had,” she said. “I think a lot of that was connected to my lack of self worth, my lack of knowing how to set healthy boundaries.”
She says Schultz stole “something I’ll never get back: my innocence.”
Some of the women say they have a crippling fear that they can’t protect their own children from the same type of abuse.
They say that after years of living with trauma, guilt and shame, coming forward now has offered a sense of relief.
“”[I’m] feeling almost a bit empowered,” said one woman.
“We’ve all found our voice and we’re going to push back and say ‘no, what happened to us was not OK.'”