(RNS) — Mark Rivera, a former lay pastor at the center of several sexual abuse allegations in a conservative Anglican denomination, was found guilty of five counts of felony child sexual abuse and assault on Thursday morning (Dec. 15).
Judge John Barsanti of Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Kane County found Rivera guilty of two counts of predatory sexual assault of a victim under 13 years old (a Class X felony) and three counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim under 13 (a Class 2 felony). The defense has 30 days to file a motion to request a new trial, and if the motion is denied, the sentencing hearing is expected to take place on Feb. 10. Barsanti revoked Rivera’s bail, and Rivera will be held at Kane County jail awaiting the final outcome of the prosecution.
The decision has been a long time coming for the family of Cherin Marie, whose young daughter originally reported being sexually abused by Rivera in 2019. Cherin asked to go by her first and middle names to protect her family’s privacy.
“We are grateful for the verdict and we hope this is the first step of many towards justice for Mark Rivera’s victims,” Cherin said on behalf of her family.
Rivera served as a lay minister at a church plant of the Anglican Church in North America in Big Rock, Illinois, from 2013-2019. He was initially arrested in 2019 and charged in connection with his crimes against Cherin’s daughter, who attended the church plant with Cherin and her family. Rivera has since been accused of abusing more than 10 other alleged survivors, and has also been charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.
The three-day bench trial — a trial decided by a judge, not a jury — took place over the span of three months at the Kane County Judicial Center on July 12, Sept. 2 and Oct. 16.
Julia Petersen, an ACNA member who attended the first day of the trial in solidarity with the reported survivors, told Religion News Service that seeing Cherin’s daughter give her testimony was profoundly moving. “I have never seen courage like I’ve seen that day,” she said.
Matthew Rodgers, an attorney from the Kane County State’s Attorney Office who represented the people of Illinois in this case, told RNS in an email that the prosecutors took on this case because “we and the grand jury found the victim and the allegations to be credible.” He said the defense’s main argument was that the state had insufficient evidence. Rivera’s lawyer, Brittany Pedersen, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Earlier this year, the anti-abuse advocacy group ACNAtoo reported that the criminal trial was originally planned for December 2020 but faced several delays. “For nearly two years, this young girl has repeatedly steeled herself to face her abuser in court, only to have the trial delayed again every time,” they wrote in September.
“We are grateful that today’s guilty verdict marks the beginning of justice for this courageous young girl and her family. Let justice roll down for all of Mark Rivera’s victims,” ACNAtoo said today in a statement to RNS.
The Anglican Church in North America formed in 2009 after splitting from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada over the two denominations’ acceptance of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage. Leadership in the young denomination’s Upper Midwest Diocese, where the Christ Our Light Anglican church plant was located, has been roiled by accusations of mishandling sexual abuse allegations for over a year. Spokespeople for ACNA and the diocese did not respond to requests for comment.
Katie Robichaud, a former member of Church of the Resurrection — the Upper Midwest Diocese’s headquarters and the onetime church home of Rivera — attended the second day of the trial. She told RNS she’s worried church leaders still may not take the reality of sexual abuse in the church seriously.
“The concern I have is that the province, or the diocese or the local church Rez, will try, consciously or not, to interpret this as an exception and a fluke instead of a giant warning sign that if it’s not taken seriously, immediately, that it’s just a matter of time before we repeat this whole scenario.”
In May, Cherin Marie filed a lawsuit against Christ Our Light Anglican Church, the now defunct church plant where Rivera was lay pastor, arguing that her daughter has experienced mental anguish and emotional and physical pain because of the church’s negligence. The lawsuit requests over $50,000 in damages. Evan Smola, a lawyer who is representing Cherin in the civil case, says the guilty verdict likely will not impact the lawsuit.
“Because the burdens of proof are different criminally than they are civilly, the outcomes of criminal cases are generally not admissible in a civil case,” he told RNS.
Rivera is still awaiting trial in the Kane County circuit court for charges related to rape allegations made against him by his former neighbor, Joanna Rudenborg. She told RNS in an email that Thursday’s guilty verdict demonstrates that “the State, if not the Church, takes the serial sexual assault of a 9-year-old child seriously.”
“Every conviction of a serial abuser brings a sigh of relief and some sense of justice for the survivors watching,” Rudenborg told RNS. “I know there are still a lot of Mark Riveras out there. But my mind would be put greatly at ease to know that the specific one who shattered the lives of so many people I love, that at least he is finally somewhere where he cannot hurt people so easily.”