“They never followed up with me or asked me any questions to further clarify or even hear the story from myself,” said Holly. “I was highly involved in the youth group and none of my contact information has changed. There is no excuse to not reaching out to a victim who suffered abuse at the hand of someone so highly involved in the church.” Holly said she stopped attending churches altogether when she was 18.
Joanna Rudenborg was never a member of COLA, but she was the godchild of the church’s priest, the Rev. Rand York, and lived in Big Rock for a number of years and knew Rivera as a neighbor. In February 2018, Rudenborg, then 39, was at Rivera’s house with friends when she drank to the point of blacking out.
“I woke up the next morning in my bed, naked, with a pounding headache,” she wrote in a November 2020 email to Rivera’s wife that she shared with RNS.
Her memory of what happened after the gathering was blank, except for a vague memory of Rivera hugging her and a feeling that something was not right, she said. Rivera came over that morning and told Rudenborg that he and another church leader had walked her home because she had been too inebriated to do so without help. Then, according to Rudenborg, Rivera told her that she had seduced him when they were alone and they slept together.
Because she was in shock and had no alternative narrative, she said she believed Rivera. But his behavior didn’t make sense.
“Somehow I had had a sexual encounter with a married Christian man — and a core member of my godparents’ community — that I did not remember, and not only was he not in the least bit ashamed of his actions, but he actively celebrated ‘our night together’ as a glorious thing, and was quite determined that he would never, under any circumstance, tell his wife,” she wrote.
Over the next few weeks, Rudenborg said, Rivera repeatedly professed his love for her and asked her to have an affair with him. She refused, but remained friends with him.
By March 2020, Rivera had been arrested in connection with Cherin’s daughter’s allegations and was out on bond, living at home. Rudenborg attended another gathering at the Riveras’, and at the end of the night, she blacked out again. She said she woke up the next day at home, recalling nothing but two brief memories of Rivera doing something sexual to her and then preparing to leave.
Rivera returned the next day and told Rudenborg again that she had seduced him, Rudenborg said. “The way he told the story, I assaulted him,” she wrote. “In retrospect, this seems physically impossible, given his relatively greater upper body strength and the fact that I was drunk (or drugged) enough to black out.”
Rivera’s alleged account crushed Rudenborg, and she said she sank into a depression. In November 2020, she began to suspect that she had been raped. “It is only within the last couple weeks that I have clearly realized that I was raped twice, lied to who knows how much, and generally taken in by a master manipulator,” Rudenborg wrote to Rivera’s wife.