Anglican
Founded in 2009, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a Christian denomination in the Anglican tradition in the United States and Canada. (Logo: ACNA)

ACNA Leaders to Take Over Abuse Investigation in Upper Midwest Diocese

By Bob Smietana

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.

Bishop Stewart Ruch III (Photo: ChurchRez.org)

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 stated, 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.

“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.

 
Editorial Note: As Julie Roys has noted previously, she attended Church of the Resurrection and has a conflict of interest in reporting this story. However, this article was reported and edited without any involvement by Roys.
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11 thoughts on “ACNA Leaders to Take Over Abuse Investigation in Upper Midwest Diocese”

  1. Thanks for the updates… encouraging to see a shift away from the institutional church’s common practice of cover up, secrecy and silence (enemy’s way of keeping things in the dark) and that shining the light on the deeds of darkness is becoming more and more the standard (through truly independent investigations/journalism as that is pretty much the only way an investigation can be trusted), especially since God’s way is in the light so that ALL may see that what we do individually and institutionally, is Godly, just & right – and that includes exposing the deeds of darkness, especially, but not exclusively, in the context of sexual immorality! (John 3:19-21; Eph 5:2-21)

    painful process, but oh so refining as it helps consume the dross…

  2. Rhonda Merrick

    Mr. Smietana, you left out a few words. I can understand why, but please allow me to expand on your report.

    “ACNA was founded by conservative former Episcopalians who disagreed with the Episcopal Church’s policies and beliefs about [Jesus, the Bible, the three historic creeds, the 39 Articles of Religion, the historic Book of Common Prayer, the meaning of salvation, the nature of the Holy Church universal,] and sexuality.”

    John Spong wasn’t the first Episcopal bishop who had to cross his fingers behind his back when reciting the Nicene Creed every Sunday. A few years after my family and I left our Episcopal church, we heard that the new pastor had preached a sermon in which he discounted the necessity of belief in Christ’s physical resurrection — on EASTER. As if he had never read I Corinthians 15:11-19!

      1. What agenda do you propose I have? As noted, I had no hand in reporting or editing this story. That’s because I used to attend Church of the Resurrection.

    1. Rhonda Merrick

      And do I sound bitter? I’m not, I’m really not. The whole journey has helped me to deeply think through what I believe and why.

      At age 14, I read C.S. Lewis’ _Mere Christianity_ and puzzled over the ideas in there which were new to me. I still like the way Lancelot Andrewes put it: that we base our theology on ONE Bible, containing TWO testaments, as interpreted in light of the THREE ancient creeds, along with the FOUR Councils of the ancient undivided Church of the first FIVE centuries after Jesus Christ.

  3. Now that you take responsibility, please answer a few questions. Did any of your reporters call the police or DA and ask what they advised the Bishop? Has anyone asked a legal authority what could be the pitfalls of the victims making statements on Twitter? Did anyone attempt to give a timeline of events? It seems the story is quite one sided to imply that Ruch may have enabled a sexual criminal?

    1. Bob and Kathryn reached out to the ACNA for comment, but ACNA did not respond. They also reported what Ruch said in his letter. This is not one-sided, but reflects an honest attempt to get comment from all involved. There is much more to this ongoing story and I’m sure Bob and Kathryn will continue to report professionally. But your allegation that The Roys Report is somehow biased against Ruch is without merit. I have purposefully recused myself and am relying on journalists I trust to report this story.

      1. Henry J Kruse

        Julie, this is a ongoing law enforcement care and it seems that you are disinterested that the victims statements, on Twitter, could endanger the case and you have no interest that law enforcement could have instructed Bishop Ruch to keep silent. Hence, your bias.

        1. We have no control over the statements victims make on Twitter or elsewhere. If you are concerned about the statements, I would recommend contacting the victims. As for Ruch, reporters have reached out to him for comment. If he has been instructed by police to stay silent, he is free to tell them that. To my knowledge, he has not.

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