(RNS) — In July 2021 Stewart Ruch III, bishop of the Anglican Church in North America’s Upper Midwest Diocese, went on leave after making what he called “regrettable errors” in handling cases of abuse in the diocese.
By that time, many who attended the roughly 30 churches in Ruch’s diocese knew that the missteps Ruch was referring to had to do with his delay in informing them of the accusations against Mark Rivera, a volunteer leader at Christ Our Light Anglican, an Upper Midwest Diocese church in Big Rock, Illinois.
Rivera had been arrested in 2019 and later charged with felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age. Since then at least 9 others have made allegations against Rivera, who had previously been at Church of the Resurrection, where Ruch served as rector and then as bishop.
Ruch waited nearly two years to tell anyone outside ACNA leadership about Rivera’s alleged abuse. As he confessed in his leave-taking letter, “My mistake accounts for the significant gap in time between Mark being accused of an offense and this communication to you.”
But the delay had already alienated some in the small denomination, which emerged from a 2009 split with the Episcopal Church over LGBT issues. Ruch’s handling of the allegations provoked not one but two parallel investigations — one into the accusations against Rivera and the diocese’s response and another into allegations that Ruch and other ACNA leaders had created a culture of submission and control at Church of the Resurrection.
When he went on leave, Ruch appeared contrite, telling church members in a July 2021 letter, “I want you to be able to trust me as your bishop and pastor. I feel like the best way to walk in integrity now is to step aside as this process moves forward and as efforts are made to serve any survivors of abuse.”
But far from mollifying Ruch’s critics, the investigations have only stoked more distrust, with some survivors refusing to participate and three women appointed to advocate for the victims quitting a panel appointed to help manage the crisis due to a lack of transparency.
Of late Ruch himself has struck a less than penitent tone.
“Both my diocese and the ACNA got hit this summer by a vicious spiritual attack of the enemy,” Ruch wrote to the denomination’s top official, Archbishop Foley Beach, on Jan. 14. “I believe this is the case because both entities are doing robust Gospel work, and Satan hates us.”
“I have decided to come off of my voluntary and temporary leave of absence effective March 7, 2022,” Ruch announced to Beach. “I believe my calling as a bishop who is responsible for leading and pastoring my diocese requires me to return to my work of service, preaching and oversight.”
The ongoing investigative process, he further said, was neither “canonical or, more importantly, biblical.”