(RNS) — More than 350 people have signed a petition calling the Anglican Church in North America to honor abuse survivors’ wishes regarding an investigation into the handling of abuse allegations.
The petition, published Thursday (Jan. 6) by the abuse prevention advocacy group #ACNAtoo, asks that ACNA hire an investigative firm that will “search for and publish all the truth, even if it shows the Province in an unflattering light, following the best practices of a survivor-centric investigation.”
Several individuals who reported being sexually abused by Mark Rivera, a former lay minister in ACNA’s Upper Midwest Diocese, have said leaders in the diocese repeatedly mishandled their allegations. On Aug. 28, ACNA announced an eight-member Provincial Response Team to oversee an investigation into the Upper Midwest Diocese’s handling of the abuse allegations.
On Wednesday, the response team emailed some of the accusers, inviting them to vote between two possible investigative firms. The email said the eight members of the response team would also vote. However, 10 of the alleged survivors have signed or initialed the petition stating that they will not participate in the investigation process due to several concerns.
“My vote is no. … This ‘voting process’ you’re trying to sell me is an absolute insult, and you know it,” wrote #ACNAtoo advocate Joanna Rudenborg in a public letter on Thursday. “You ask me to choose between your chosen firms as if that is an actual choice, all the while refusing to disclose the concrete processes and parameters that you, the client, will be asking whichever of these firms you hire, to follow.”
The #ACNAtoo petition states that, based on publicly available information, “it seems clear that both firms are committed to serving and prioritizing the needs of the client (i.e the Province), which elevates protection from liability rather than elucidating the truth.” The petition says the firms do not appear to have experience with church investigations and seem to indicate little commitment to survivor-centered practices.
The petition also voices concerns about the transparency of the investigation, saying the response team has neither specified the parameters of the investigation nor agreed to share the contract it will sign with the chosen firm.
The petition requests ACNA hire a firm that will commit to several measures, including waiving attorney/client privilege, using trauma-sensitive interviewing practices, assuring the anonymity of victims, examining systemic contributions of abuse and making the final report fully available to victims or the public. It also asks that the selected firm commit to not representing the client (ACNA) in civil litigation.
A spokesperson for ACNA declined to comment on this story.
On Twitter, activist Rachael Denhollander, herself a survivor of abuse by gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, responded to Joanna Rudenborg’s concerns about the investigation process: “You are absolutely correct and any advocate or attorney who wanted to advise true best standards practices would never have counseled the ACNA this way. I’m so sorry.”