(RNS) — A long-awaited third-party report on sexual abuse reveals that leaders in an Anglican Church in North America diocese failed to act on tips about sexual misconduct and abuse and defended an alleged abuser as innocent while questioning reported survivors’ credibility.
The probe into events in the Upper Midwest Diocese, conducted by the investigative firm Husch Blackwell, also found that an ACNA priest did not report abuse by a lay pastor to the Department of Child and Family Services, claiming a church lawyer told him he was exempt from mandatory reporting laws, and that Bishop Stewart Ruch III and others allowed a church volunteer to have contact with teenagers after he had lost his teaching job for inappropriate behavior with students.
As serious as the report’s findings are, the investigation went forward without hearing from at least five alleged survivors of abuse who refused to participate over concerns about transparency.
The Upper Midwest Diocese in the ACNA — a small denomination formed by a 2009 split with the Episcopal Church over its LGBTQ-affirming policies — has been roiled since 2019 by allegations that Mark Rivera, a former lay pastor in the diocese known for his charisma and physical affection, had sexually abused young people he had met through Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois, and Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock, Illinois.
At least 10 individuals have made sexual abuse or sexual misconduct allegations against Rivera, who is now on trial in Kane County, Illinois, on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age. Rivera also faces charges for two felony counts of criminal sexual assault of a separate alleged adult victim.
Ruch is on leave after admitting he made serious mistakes in handling the abuse allegations against Rivera, including failing to initially tell members of the Upper Midwest Diocese about those allegations.
ACNA spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
Four years earlier, in 2015, several leaders became aware that a lay leader at Christ Our Light Anglican, Chris Lapeyre, had been fired from a high school teaching position that year over concerns about a relationship with a female student, according to the report.
The Rev. Rand York, a priest at the church, told investigators he knew that Lapeyre had lost his job and why but allowed Lapeyre to stay in leadership, saying that he “was not concerned about Lapeyre interacting with young people at COLA because Lapeyre had three daughters of his own.”