(RNS) — For more than two decades, Mark Rivera was a beloved volunteer leader of two churches in the Chicago suburbs. Known for his charisma and humor, the husband and father of four often boasted that he was the godfather of over 30 children in his community.
Church leaders and members in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, of the Anglican Church in North America, trusted Rivera’s spiritual authority. According to reports from former Christ Our Light Anglican Church parishioners, they dismissed his frequent physical affection — his habit of kissing young girls on the cheek or inviting teenagers to sit on his lap — as “just Mark being Mark.”
Then, in May 2019, a 9-year-old child told her mother that Rivera had abused her, according to the woman, Cherin Marie, who asked that her last name not be used to protect the family’s privacy. For those who believed the alleged victim, the revelation was earth-shattering. Yet many in the small community, many of them family or neighbors of the accused or his accuser, doubted the child’s story.
Since then, nine additional people have made allegations of abuse by Rivera, including child sexual abuse, grooming, rape and assault, and Rivera has been charged with felony child sexual assault and abuse of the 9-year-old. To date, the diocese has publicly acknowledged only some of the allegations, and according to abuse prevention advocates, has downplayed the access he had to children and others while in church leadership.
ACNA, a splinter group of Episcopal and Church of Canada congregations, was founded in 2009 after its member churches rejected their former denominations’ acceptance of LGBTQ clergy and marriage for same-sex couples.
Rivera held several volunteer leadership positions at Church of the Resurrection, the Diocese of the Upper Midwest’s headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois, from the mid-1990s until 2013. From 2013-2019 he was a lay minister at Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock, Illinois, a church planted by Church of the Resurrection members.
In 2014, Holly, another member of the church who asked to keep her last name private, was visiting Rivera, her godfather, in Big Rock. Holly, then 16, said she remembers being in a basement room that Rivera called the “man cave” while he was on the computer. When he went to the bathroom, Holly said, she saw tabs with pornographic images open on his computer.
“After I saw that, I felt guilty, disgusted and just really gross,” said Holly, now 23. “And I remember feeling like it was really hard to breathe, and knowing what to do, because I was waiting for him to walk me home.”
As she got up to leave, Holly said, she saw Rivera had left the bathroom door open and was masturbating.
“I just felt so uncomfortable,” said Holly. “The door was right there, and you could see everything. So why would he do that unless he wanted me to see it?”