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ELCA Presiding Bishop Releases Report Examining Removal of Latino Pastor by Bishop Rohrer

In response, the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA said in a May 28 statement that Eaton framed “racist actions as ‘unwise decisions’ and ‘unfortunate events,’ completely ignoring the suffering of an entire community of color.”

The association added that Eaton was giving Rohrer, whom they characterized as “a white aggressor,” a chance to choose their own fate, describing Eaton’s decision as “deeply rooted in white supremacy and systemic racism.”

The report initially was made available only to certain leaders, about a month ago, but Eaton released it publicly on Wednesday.

“There are systemic issues of broken trust at all levels within the ELCA that will require intentional work to repair and address,” she said in a statement Wednesday, adding that the delay in the report’s release contributed to those issues. “I apologize for the delay, and I feel broken-hearted for the pain that has been caused.”

It isn’t completely clear what led to Rabell-González’s removal, but in a previous statement, the council of the Sierra Pacific Synod said it unanimously decided to vacate the pastor’s call after “continual communications of verbal harassment and retaliatory actions from more than a dozen victims from 2019 to the present.”

Rabell-González, who was considered for bishop in the election that ultimately chose Rohrer, has denied those accusations to Religion News Service. After Rohrer’s appointment, the synod council created an advisory council to look into the allegations against Rabell-González and identified “compassionate steps” for him to take, which became part of the terms and requirements of his call, according to the council’s statement on the Sierra Pacific Synod blog.

Rabell-González, who is Afro-Caribbean, informed Rohrer on Dec. 9 he would not fulfill those terms and requirements, according to the council, which took action Dec. 11 at its regular meeting.

Prior to relocating in spring 2021 to what would become Misión Latina Luterana in Stockton, Rabell-González had resigned from another congregation after being accused of harassment and bullying, according to the report. The team said that congregation was never officially told why he resigned, but reported that some felt allegations against the pastor escalated after he was quoted in a Los Angeles Times story about how racial justice protests had been met with backlash in the region. Some members of that congregation followed Rabell-González to Stockton, which was about 45 minutes away from their previous parish.

The Rev. Nelson Rabell-González speaks at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Lodi, California, in 2019. Video screen grab

The decision in December to vacate Pastor Rabell-González’s call simultaneously ceased funding for the congregation, according to the report.

There are no plans to replace the pastor or continue to support the congregation, which has decided to change its name to Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, or Holy Mary Pilgrim Lutheran Church, “as a way to describe their experience of feeling assaulted and forced to become pilgrims yet again,” the report noted. The congregation now worships in a parking lot.

The report found that Rohrer’s treatment of certain staff members “created trauma for them in their positions.” They felt “a lack of agency” due to the bishop’s refusal to accept their guidance about Dec. 12 and other matters. Rohrer apologized in a written statement late December.