(RNS) — A group of leaders from the Anglican Church in North America will take over an investigation into alleged abuse at an ACNA church in Illinois.
Mark Rivera, a former lay leader at Christ Our Light Anglican, an ACNA startup congregation in Big Rock, Illinois, west of Chicago, has been charged with felony child sexual abuse and faces a trial this fall. At least 10 survivors have alleged abuse by Rivera.
Before going to Christ Our Light, Rivera had been a member of Church of the Resurrection, a prominent ACNA congregation in Wheaton, Illinois, where he also had worked with youth. Because of that, former members of Resurrection’s congregation complain that Ruch should have informed the diocese of Rivera’s alleged abuse.
Although abuse allegations were reported to law enforcement in 2019, Bishop Stewart Ruch III of the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest did not inform church members in the diocese of the allegations for two years. Abuse survivors and advocates have been critical of Ruch’s handling of the abuse allegations, arguing that he took too long to inform members of the diocese about the abuse.
Ruch has called the delay a “regrettable error” and recently announced plans to take a leave of absence.
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The diocese has hired Grand River Solutions, a California firm that specializes in helping schools deal with Title IX compliance, to conduct a third-party review of abuse allegations.
In a letter, Archbishop Foley Beach of ACNA said he has accepted Ruch’s request for leave. Beach told church members that a “Provincial Response Team” would oversee the third-party investigation going forward.
The ACNA did not respond to request for comment.
After a request from survivors, Ruch told members of the diocese about the abuse allegations and the third-party investigation in May. A month later, also in response to dissatisfaction from victims and others, Ruch announced that any results of the investigation would be made public and that the diocese would not “assert any privilege over the report nor make any edits to it.”
Joanna Rudenborg, who has made public that she brought accusations of rape against Rivera to the police, has been outspoken in criticizing how abuse allegations against Rivera were handled. She maintains that church leaders have not done enough to reach out to survivors or to find out the extent of Rivera’s alleged abuse.
“Justice would be going back in time and having this taken care of right from the beginning,” Rudenborg told Religion News Service, before Ruch announced his leave. “In a larger sense, culturally, justice looks like straightening out these systems so that the spaces they create are safe for vulnerable people and hostile to predators.”
Ruch is the third ACNA bishop to face controversy. In 2020, Bishop James Hobby of Pittsburgh resigned for mishandling abuse allegations in his diocese. Bishop Ron Jackson of the Great Lakes Diocese was defrocked in 2020 after pleading guilty to sexual immorality.
A denomination of about 1,000 churches and 127,000 members, ACNA was founded by conservative former Episcopalians who disagreed with the Episcopal Church’s policies and beliefs about sexuality.
Beach said the response team would be made up of women and men with experience in responding to abuse and would be committed to acting with “deep care for the survivors.”
“We are prayerful and hopeful that this will help bring forth truth and confidence so healing and restoration can be facilitated,” he wrote.
ACNA will also appoint another group of ACNA leaders to look at the governance structure of the Upper Midwest Diocese. Currently, the diocese’s Bishop’s Council is made up of people with close ties to Ruch, including one relative. That’s raised questions over whether Ruch operated without proper oversight.
The Bishop’s Council will oversee the diocese in Ruch’s absence, with the help of an interim bishop, who will be appointed by Beach.
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“We call on all our churches to be in regular prayer,” the Bishop’s Council told the diocese in a letter. “Please pray for all survivors of abuse and the most vulnerable among us. Pray for Bishop Stewart and his family, and all our leaders, as well as the strengthening of our churches during this challenging season.”
Kathryn Post contributed to this story.