(RNS) — When Cherin Marie joined Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock, Illinois, in 2013, she trusted that the community of a few dozen — many of whom were family members, longtime church friends or neighbors — would care for her and her kids.
Her great uncle, the Rev. Rand York, was the church’s priest, an aunt was a member of the core team that started the church and her next-door neighbor, Mark Rivera, was a lay catechist, or minister. Cherin herself served on the vestry — the church’s governing board — and as a Communion and prayer minister. She also played cello on the worship team.
Cherin had met her husband at the church, and at the wedding, at which York officiated, Rivera was a groomsman.
In May 2019, Cherin’s 9-year-old daughter told her that she had been abused by Rivera. She reported the alleged abuse to York, believing that her great uncle and the others in church leadership would protect her daughter.
According to Cherin, who asked that her last name not be used in order to protect her daughter’s identity, church leaders not only failed to report the allegations to the police or to the Department of Children and Family Services, but some also pressured her not to go to the police.
Despite this pressure, Cherin reported the alleged abuse to the police. In June 2019 Rivera was arrested and later charged with felony child sexual assault and abuse. He is currently out on bond.
In December 2020, Rivera’s neighbor, Joanna Rudenborg, filed charges with the Kane County Sheriff’s office alleging that Rivera had raped her twice between 2018 and 2020. The Kane County Sheriff’s office would not comment beyond saying there is an ongoing investigation. Rivera’s lawyer did not respond for comment.
“That position of spiritual authority was monumental and central to the trust I had in him, and the access he had to my children,” said Cherin. “He was well-established as a church leader, even within the diocese. He attended diocesan events as a Christ Our Light leader and representative.”
Cherin’s story also became public on social media, giving rise to claims that some other church leaders, including Bishop Stewart Ruch III of the Anglican Upper Midwest Diocese, mishandled the allegations. Ruch, who has admitted making “regrettable” mistakes in handling the allegations, has taken a leave of absence.
Officials from the Anglican Church in North America will now oversee an investigation into how Ruch and some other church leaders handled the crisis.
Christ Our Light Anglican, which its members often call COLA, was founded as part of the Greenhouse Movement, a church planting movement in the diocese. The new church was initially planted by members of Church of the Resurrection, located in a Chicago suburb about 30 miles away, which is the diocesan headquarters. Cherin and Rivera were among that group.
From the beginning, Cherin said, Rivera played a significant role in COLA’s daily operations. Previously, he had held several volunteer leadership positions at Church of the Resurrection. As catechist at COLA, Rivera oversaw the details for church services, served Communion, mentored youth and preached sermons.
After her daughter made her allegations against Rivera, Cherin said she told York. In that May 18, 2019, meeting, Cherin said York expressed grief and assured her and her husband that COLA would pay for their daughter’s counseling and support them during whatever came next. He also said he would immediately contact the Rev. William Beasley, who was the Greenhouse Movement’s dean (a leadership title in the Anglican Church).
But, according to Cherin, after York confronted Rivera privately, he called a meeting between Cherin, Rivera and Chris Lapeyre, senior warden and worship pastor at COLA and a visiting assistant lecturer at nearby Wheaton College.
Cherin said Rivera denied the allegations, attributing them to Satan attacking the church. According to Cherin, Lapeyre then shared that York had consulted with the diocesan chancellor — the diocese’s lawyer — Charlie Philbrick, who was said to have advised them that they did not need to report the allegations to the authorities. Lapeyre then told Cherin, “It sounds like you don’t need to (report the allegations) either,” according to Cherin.
“I felt strongly pressured not to report Mark,” said Cherin.
In a conversation with RNS, Lapeyre said he had been trying to interpret what the law required during the meeting. “What I meant by saying that she did not have to report was not to say that she should not, but to say that she was not required to . In other words, as a parent, it was up to her discretion,” said Lapeyre. He said that after the meeting he encouraged Cherin to report the abuse allegations.
Lapeyre said the same was true for the advisement to York: Philbrick hadn’t instructed York not to report the allegations; rather, he was trying to clarify whether the situation required York to act as a mandated reporter. (According to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ Mandated Reporter Manual, any clergy member is “required to immediately report to the Department when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them in their professional or official capacities may be an abused child or neglected child.”)