Home Christian News Returning From Self-Imposed Hiatus, ACNA Bishop Stewart Ruch Works To Regain Trust

Returning From Self-Imposed Hiatus, ACNA Bishop Stewart Ruch Works To Regain Trust

The meeting was described by church leaders as being primarily for “church family only.” Several attendees who spoke to RNS requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from fellow members or leadership.

Inside the meeting, several attendees said, Ruch tried to distance himself from the Greenhouse Movement, a church planting organization that founded Christ Our Light Anglican, the now defunct church in Big Rock, Illinois, where Rivera was lay leader. Ruch allegedly claimed the nonprofit is entirely separate from Church of the Resurrection and said he played no role in choosing leadership at COLA.

Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Until at least May of this year, the Greenhouse Movement was listed on the Upper Midwest Diocese’s website as a deanery, or a group of parishes under the diocese’s jurisdiction. A website for Christ Our Light Anglican identifies the church as belonging to both Greenhouse and the UMD.

Attendees told RNS that Molly Ritchie — the aunt of Cherin Marie, an abuse victim’s mother — spoke at the meeting. Ritchie described the many family relationships among COLA members. Cherin Marie, who asked to be identified by her first and middle names for privacy, is also the grand-niece of the Rev. Rand York, then COLA’s priest in charge and the person Cherin initially approached to report the alleged abuse.

“By bringing Molly up, it seemed like they were trying to make (the abuse) seem like more of a family situation rather than a church problem,” one witness said. Others said Ritchie’s explanation helped them understand the challenges leaders faced in deciding how to respond. Cherin Marie told RNS in an email that the abuse is a church matter because Rivera knew several of his reported victims through Church of the Resurrection, and his status as a church leader “was foundational to the trust and authority he later had as a COLA leader.”

Some Resurrection members said that at multiple points throughout the night, Ruch and other leaders dismissed facts in the Husch Blackwell report as incorrect or as taken out of context.

Attendees said that Alec Smith, a Resurrection worship leader and onetime advising chancellor, or lawyer, to Ruch, laid out a legal argument for why ACNA leaders had not failed as state mandatory reporters of child mistreatment. Diocesan lawyer Charlie Philbrick, Smith reportedly said, advised York that the alleged victim’s parents should report to police if they believed a crime was committed.

Smith argued, according to multiple descriptions of his comments, that only the child’s parents could have effectively reported the abuse to police. He also reported that Philbrick told York that the relationship between Rivera and the alleged victim did not fall under DCFS jurisdiction.

According to the Illinois DCFS’ Mandated Reporter Manual, however, any clergy member is “required to immediately report to the Department when they have reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them in their professional or official capacities may be an abused child or neglected child.”

In the future, Ruch reportedly claimed, diocesan leaders would err toward reporting to the Department of Children and Family Services when they have doubts about whether it is appropriate.

Some attendees left the meeting grateful that Ruch acknowledged some of “his most distinctive mistakes,” in the words of one attendee, and that he took the time to answer difficult questions and promised that policy changes were on the way. One person told RNS that leaving Resurrection had never been on the table for him. “We feel like we committed to the church, and that should be part of what we do: to help the church work through its issues.”

Others concluded that the meeting seemed like an attempt to focus the narrative on the wrongs done to Ruch and Resurrection members, rather than the harm experienced by the alleged victims of abuse.

“I was looking for clarity and honesty and remorse, and caring for the victims,” one attendee said about church leaders. “I didn’t feel that they delivered on that the way that a church should.”

This article originally appeared here