I am a very ordinary layman of the Church of England, not especially high nor especially low not especially anything else. CS Lewis
As I often say, churches are a magnet for offenders. Why is that? Current church teaching emphasizes that good Christians shouldn’t question church leadership. This makes today’s evangelical churches virtual candy stores for predators.
- They come because there is a trust factor surrounding those who minister in the church.
- They come because there is an authority factor built into any office of the church as well as the volunteers of the church.
- There is the forgiveness factor built into the system. We are supposed to forgive and forget immediately.
- There is the *no slander* factor built into the church. Slander is ill-defined as anything that causes the church leaders to get mad.
- Finally, there is the witness factor which only applies to elders. 1 Timothy 5:19.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.
It is not that a predator comes to the church which is the problem. Many churches have a knee-jerk reaction to finding a predator in the church. They want to protect the image of the church at all costs which often means the victims get sidelined. If only churches reacted calmly and comprehensively to the fact that there is a predator in the church. Such reactions, ala Well Done, Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church! Churches: This Is How to Handle Sex Abuse Allegations, demonstrates to the world how to handle such a situation. They were calm, comprehensive, as well as having understandable anger towards the predator.
I hope that there will be many churches like Lookout Mountain.
Julie Roys and the Midwestern Anglican Organization
I received this thoughtful letter from Julie Roys. I will reprint the open letter from the diocese after her letter. As usual, Julie is a class act in responding to this matter.
One of the board members of The Roys Report, Eirik Olsen, is stepping down due to a sexual abuse case he’s helping to manage in his diocese right now. You can read about it in this open letter from Eirik’s bishop.
The victims recently reached out to me, and I am so grieved over this situation. This was our family’s diocese. And because of my proximity to the church, this is not something I would consider covering. It would definitely be considered a conflict of interest.
But I have expressed my concerns to the leadership involved and have connected the victims with advocates I’m confident can help them. Eirik and I have also discussed the issue at length. And we both decided that it would be best for him to step down from the board for the time being.
I tell you this because I believe in transparency. I don’t want you to see that someone has disappeared from the board and wonder why. I want to be as upfront as I can. But again, because I can’t report on this situation, I don’t want to publicly state an opinion on what’s transpired.
Eirik remains a dear brother to me. And I have the utmost respect for Eirik’s walk with the Lord and his love for the Bride of Christ.
Please pray for The Roys Report board as we seek to find a replacement for Eirik, and to expand our board to the desired five to seven members.
Thank you for your prayers and continued support of this ministry to report the truth and restore the church. We are so grateful for all of you.
For Christ and His glory,
Bishop Stewart reports about Christ Our Light in Big Rock, Illinois, and volunteer Catechist Mark Rivera.
Here is a link to the material below. I am bolded two parts of this letter that I found interesting.
- Bishop Stweart admitted he could have done better initially.
- They have hired an independent organization to investigate the situation.
Good for Bishop Stewart. He now gets it and is going out of his way to do the right thing. I bolded sections in the following letters.
04 May Bishop Stewart’s Letter Regarding Devastating Situation in Diocese
May 4, 2021
Dear Upper Midwest Diocese Family:
I am writing to share with you about a devastating situation that has occurred in our diocese during the last two years. We have been working toward taking the appropriate next steps, and our diocese has now signed an agreement to begin a formal investigation. We should have done this earlier, but we signed the contract last Friday, April 30 and wanted you to know as soon as that process was officially underway.
Let me begin by saying there are those who have been horribly victimized in these events. I desire to own where we have not served them as well as we should have and to care for any potential victims who may still come forward.
Two years ago, on May 20, 2019, Mark Rivera, a volunteer lay leader (with the title of Catechist) at Christ Our Light in Big Rock, Illinois, was accused of a sexual offense against a minor. Christ Our Light was part of the Greenhouse Missionary Society, which is within our diocese. When Greenhouse leadership learned of this accusation, Mark was immediately removed from his position as Catechist. On June 10, 2019, Mark was arrested and jailed in Kane County.
The congregation, which consisted of half a dozen families and some individuals, all knew of Mark’s arrest immediately. Six months later, in late 2019, Mark’s bail was paid, and he was released and placed under the supervision of the court as he awaited trial. This trial is still pending.
In November 2020, I received an email from an adult woman who accused Mark of a sexual crime. That morning I met with diocesan leaders and attorneys. I then replied to her email and assured her that we took her accusation very seriously. I urged her to go to the proper authorities with this accusation.
The next day, I learned that a third young woman had disclosed to two pastoral leaders that very day that she and Mark had engaged in a sexual relationship for several months. Because we were not clear about her age and to exercise caution, I directed these two pastoral leaders to call DCFS and the prosecutor’s office. They did so immediately. As best as these leaders could ascertain, she was a young adult when their sexual relationship began. A couple of months later, I learned of other possible minors at risk and personally called DCFS to make an additional report.
The alleged crimes occurred in a private home or on private property not on church property or at a church event, but we still want to take an active role in learning how best to ensure that something like this never happens again.
Let me say at the start that I made regrettable errors in this process. When the original allegation came out against Mark in 2019, I mistakenly assumed that the necessary criminal investigation was a sufficient next step. I thought it best to let the county district attorney’s office lead a thorough investigation resulting in a clear ruling. I anticipated that after this process we would inform the diocese of the court’s ruling. I naively expected the trial to occur much sooner than it has.
I have since learned otherwise, in part through conversations with one of the victims. I now understand that when an accusation of this gravity occurs, and when an arrest is made, a safe opportunity for other possible victims to come forward must be created. I apologize for this, dear family of God. We would have cared better for the victims had we hired a firm earlier. My mistake accounts for the significant gap in time between Mark being accused of an offense and this communication to you.
I have always sought the counsel of diocesan leaders and attorneys, and yet I take responsibility for these decisions. Other oversights will likely surface as we go through this process, and we as a diocese will seek to be as transparent as possible.
I have been keeping my superior, Archbishop Foley Beach, apprised of the situation. I have done the same with the Bishop’s Council of the Upper Midwest Diocese and Church of the Resurrection’s Vestry. They are highly supportive of all the decisions described in this letter.
After intensive interviewing and research of seven firms, the diocesan Bishop’s Council and I are grateful to announce that we signed a contract with a highly reputable firm with experience in such investigations, Grand River Solutions, last Friday.
Our intent in hiring an investigator is not to protect our diocese but to help us accomplish three main goals:
1) to reach out to any other possible victims and make sure they are cared for,
2) to learn how we could have handled these allegations better, and
3) to build better systems for the future so that the diocese is as safe a place as possible.
As we work with this investigative firm, one of our first actions will be communicating how other possible victims or their parents can find help. We desire to help spur truth, justice, and healing throughout our diocese. I can appreciate that this letter may raise many questions for you; please know that we will be communicating from the diocese as we work with the investigator. We anticipate there are details that we do not know or have as inaccurate and these adaptations will be a part of future communications.
Mark attended the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton from the mid-nineties until Christ Our Light was founded in 2013. The only information we have regarding Mark’s involvement with our children or youth was as a youth volunteer for one summer. He also served as a prayer minister. Mark has never held a paid position of any kind in our diocese. We look forward to working with the investigators to confirm or contradict these details.
If you or someone you know may have been harmed by Mark, we encourage you to contact the independent investigating firm at Reports@GrandRiverSolutions.com to make a confidential and safe inquiry. If you have general questions or concerns, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let me also say that I am heartbroken. Katherine and I have known all the families involved for years. Our diocese and churches have sought to provide care for the victims and their families, and moving forward, we will do our utmost to support them. We also continue to offer Mark and his family care if they desire to engage with our diocesan processes.
I ask for your prayers as we proceed. Please pray for the families involved. Please pray that justice will be done in the trial. Please pray for our independent investigation and the aforementioned goals.
May the Lord lead us in the days ahead as we seek his kingdom. Let us ask him to redeem this time to help us build a stronger Church together.
Yours in Christ,
+Stewart Upper Midwest
Bishop Stewart wrote in an update on 6/29/21
It is apparent to me that Bishop Stewart is being quite transparent. He reiterates his apology and appears to desire to do the right thing for the victims.
Beloved Upper Midwest Diocese:
I am writing to give you an update on the ongoing independent investigation that I announced to you in this pastoral letter several weeks ago about a heartbreaking situation in one of our former congregations in Big Rock, Illinois.
As some of you may be aware, one of the survivors recently spoke about this on social media, identifying herself as a victim of sexual violence and raising important questions and concerns about the diocese’s investigative process related to Mark Rivera.
Let me first say that I and our diocesan leadership continue to be deeply grieved and disturbed that anyone within our diocesan community has been victimized. This is an extremely painful, traumatic experience. We long for our diocese to be a place of true safety for all.
Not only that, but we are committed to responding to any allegations of abuse within any of our churches in a forthright, godly manner that involves the proper authorities, holds leaders accountable, and protects and honors victims. To that end, we started a process of researching independent review firms in January.
My goal in this letter is transparency: about our decisions, our processes, and my commitment to learn from my mistakes as a leader.
Let me speak to the independent review. As you know, the diocese has contracted with an independent firm, Grand River Solutions (GRS), and asked them to carry out a thorough review. After researching and interviewing seven different firms, our diocesan leadership team appointed a leader to select one of these firms. This leader chose GRS for its responsiveness, past work with victims, and professional reputation. I was asked to step aside from this important decision to avoid any conflict of interest.
I want to speak to the concerns that have been raised about the firm’s process, concerns that I can imagine some of you may share.
First, the full report will be made public and will protect victim identities. Our intention in hiring GRS has always been transparency and we plan on a full public release of the report in keeping with that intent. We seek to walk in the light.
Second, our agreement with the investigative firm is that the diocese will not assert any privilege over the report nor make any edits to it.
Third, the scope of the investigation is diocesan-wide and will include any shortcomings of the diocese.
Brothers and sisters, the primary goal is to provide a safe opportunity for any other victims to come forward. We also desire to understand how the church made mistakes and to take responsibility. Finally, GRS will evaluate all our safety practices and make recommendations as to how those practices can be improved.
I want to reiterate what I said several weeks ago, that I deeply apologize for not notifying the diocese earlier of the abuse that took place. I mistakenly assumed that the legal system would bring about justice much faster. I was ignorant of the additional steps we should have taken to create a safe haven for victims to come forward. I am very sorry for this.
That said, I am grateful for the immediate steps that were taken. Mark was removed from his lay leadership position at Christ Our Light Anglican in Big Rock, and the church was made aware of the accusations. Local authorities were immediately contacted on multiple occasions with new information and safety concerns. We have sought and continue to seek to care for victims.
Like many of you, I was very concerned by some of the claims made about our care. This is precisely why we think it is so important to submit ourselves to a third-party investigation.
I look forward to a broad investigation that will reveal how we can improve. We desire truth and submit ourselves to this process. We are open to the findings and their applications, striving to learn how to prevent such abuse in the future as well as the best way to provide a clear and safe process for victims to come forward.
We as a diocese will continue to provide updates on this process. Due to the current proceedings of both the criminal investigation and independent review, there may be some details that I am unable to comment upon until the final report is released, but I will strive to share as much as I am able.
If you or someone you know may have been harmed by Mark, or if you have any concerns or information connected to this investigation, we encourage you to contact the independent firm at Reports@GrandRiverSolutions.com to make a confidential and safe inquiry. If you have general questions or concerns, please email email@example.com.
With much love,
I would like to see if you agree with me. I believe that the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest’s Bishop Stewart appears to be doing the right thing. I also appreciate his heartfelt apology. Special thanks to Julie Roys for alerting us to this sad situation.