‘The First Thing I Did Was Text My Priest’ A church lay leader sexually abused a child. The victim’s family says the institution protected him. By Sarah Jones, senior writer for Intelligencer  who covers politics and labor

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For years, Cherin Marie’s life near Big Rock, Illinois, revolved around her family and her faith. She and her husband were raising their young children in the Christ Our Light Anglican Church, a tiny but active congregation within the Diocese of the Upper Midwest of the Anglican Church in North America. Her weeks revolved around service, volunteering, and life alongside fellow parishioners. Her world came undone in 2019, when her then-9-year-old daughter told her that Mark Rivera, a prominent lay leader in the church, had sexually abused her. Cherin Marie says that when her family came forward about the sexual abuse, their congregation spurned them and diocesan leaders initially sided with Rivera.

This past March, Judge John Barsanti sentenced Rivera to 15 years in prison after finding him guilty of two counts of predatory sexual assault of a victim under 13 years old and three counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim under 13. But Cherin Marie’s daughter wasn’t Rivera’s only victim: His former neighbor, Joanna Rudenborg, had accused him of raping her in 2018 and again in 2020. Then in April, Rivera pleaded guilty to one count of felony criminal sexual assault, and Barsanti sentenced him to an additional six years behind bars. Including Rudenborg, around a dozen women have identified themselves as victims of Rivera. Their claims range from rape to sexual harassment, though Rivera has only been tried for crimes against Rudenborg and Cherin Marie’s daughter. (Cherin Marie asked for her last name to be withheld to protect her daughter’s privacy.)

Cherin Marie and her family have received the highest form of justice that the secular courts can offer, and Rivera will be behind bars for the foreseeable future. Survivors and their families hope that Rivera’s legal reckoning may spur another, not just within the denomination he once served but the Anglican Church of North America as a whole. Christ Our Light stopped meeting in person during the pandemic and ultimately gave up its lease. But the authorities who oversaw Rivera’s time as a lay leader mostly remain in the ACNA. Cherin Marie, and other victims and advocates who belong to a grassroots organization called ACNAtoo, say the ACNA mishandled the response to the allegations of sexual abuse and further harmed Rivera’s victims: The priest of Christ Our Light didn’t report the allegations to authorities, and the bishop of the diocese didn’t disclose them to parishioners for two years. Now ACNAtoo is demanding transparency and accountability from leaders of the diocese as well as leaders of the ACNA for the sake of Rivera’s victims — and for anyone else who might come forward about abuse in the future.

Content retrieved from: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/anglican-church-of-north-america-sexual-abuse-scandal.html.

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