(RNS) — Mark Rivera, a former lay pastor in a conservative Anglican denomination who was convicted in December of felony child sexual abuse and assault, was sentenced on Monday afternoon (March 6) to 15 years in the department of corrections.
Judge John Barsanti of Illinois’ 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Kane County granted Rivera the minimum sentences for his crimes. The judge earlier 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). Rivera will get credit for time already served in jail and spent under electronic monitoring and will be eligible for parole before completing his full sentence.
During the first half of the sentencing hearing, which occurred on Feb. 24, Cherin Marie, the mother of the child Rivera was found guilty of abusing, read victim impact statements for both her and her daughter.
“She continues to be impacted every single day by this man’s abuse and the traumatic experience of having to testify about it in court,” said Cherin Marie, who asked to go by her first and middle name to protect her family’s privacy. Cherin added that Rivera was “a lay pastor in our church in a position of spiritual authority” over her daughter, as well as a “trusted family friend.”
“When my daughter bravely spoke up about her abuse, our church and community of friends, under this man’s influence, turned their backs on her and chose to support her sexual abuser,” she said.
Rivera also read a statement on Feb. 24 asking for the minimum sentence. “I understand that I have been convicted of a heinous crime,” he said. “I’ve committed to becoming a better person, a better father, a better husband, a better member of the community.” He concluded his statement by saying he prayed for “God’s blessing and healing for everyone involved in this trial.”
On Feb. 24, Rivera’s lawyer, Brittany Pedersen, expounded on a motion she filed asking for a new trial. She argued that because the judge did not find Rivera guilty of all 10 counts brought against him, the judge had not found the victim’s statements to be fully credible. Therefore, she said, the judge erred in finding Rivera guilty of any of the counts.
“When you find that she was not credible, I believe you have to apply that to all the counts in this case, and your honor did not,” argued Pedersen.
Barsanti dismissed the motion, stating that he did not rule based on the witnesses’ credibility but on the evidence provided by the state.
Rivera’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Cherin Marie’s young daughter first came forward with sexual abuse allegations against Rivera in 2019 at the age of nine. Her daughter is one of at least 10 victims who have made abuse allegations against Rivera since then. From 2013-2019, Rivera served as a lay pastor of Christ Our Light Anglican, an Anglican Church in North America church plant in Big Rock, Illinois, where Cherin’s family attended. He has also separately been charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.
Cherin told RNS after the sentencing that she is relieved the wait is over but is not satisfied with the sentencing.
“We’re disappointed by the verdict and the judge’s complete disregard for the aggravating factors, which he was legally bound to consider as part of his sentencing. We’re relieved to be finally done, after waiting 1,389 days for this small amount of justice,” Cherin said.
Rivera is still awaiting trial for felony charges that stem from rape allegations made against him by his former neighbor, Joanna Rudenborg. Rudenborg, though never a member of Christ Our Light Anglican, was the godchild of the church’s priest, the Rev. Rand York, and lived in Big Rock for a number of years. Rudenborg attended the sentencing and expressed disappointment that Rivera received the minimum sentence but told RNS she is relieved this first case is over.
The ACNA 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 church plant Rivera was involved in was located, has been facing accusations for over a year of mishandling sexual abuse allegations. Spokespeople for the denomination and diocese did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.
Bishop Stewart Ruch of the Upper Midwest diocese, who returned from a voluntary leave of absence in October amid an ongoing investigation into spiritual abuse in his diocese, released a statement in December announcing Rivera’s guilty verdict.
“I am thankful for this ruling after a lengthy and challenging court proceeding. I pray that it brings a degree of closure to those involved. I am thankful any time a survivor receives a measure of justice here on earth,” the statement said.
Last spring, Cherin Marie filed a lawsuit against the now-defunct church plant where she used to attend, alleging the church’s negligence resulted in mental anguish and emotional and physical pain for her daughter. The lawsuit requests more than $50,000 in damages. It also names several other Anglican entities as respondents in discovery, including the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, Church of the Resurrection (the diocesan headquarters where Rivera previously attended and volunteered), the Greenhouse Movement (the church-planting organization that oversaw Christ Our Light Anglican) and the denomination itself.
“Cherin Marie and her young daughter are relieved to see some measure of justice served and to know Rivera will be behind bars for many years where he can’t continue to prey on the vulnerable, especially children,” anti-abuse advocacy group ACNAtoo said in a statement to Religion News Service.
A third-party report on sexual abuse in the Upper Midwest Diocese was published in September but was removed from ACNA’s website days later after anti-abuse advocates criticized the report for including explicit details about a minor’s sexual abuse without the child’s consent. ACNA has not released a further redacted version of the report.
According to the denomination’s website, an investigative team of lay and clergy people is supposed to review the report along with findings from a parallel investigation assessing abuse of church power in the diocese and is charged with making recommendations in the wake of the reports. ACNA has not given any public updates about the investigations since October 1, 2022.
“ACNAtoo hopes that through following this case and the details that have been exposed, churches will work to create best practice policies to prevent abusers from having power and access within their communities as well as structures firmly in place to address cases of abuse that come to their attention,” said ACNAtoo.