The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
In 2022, Mark Rivera, a lay pastor at Christ Our Light Anglican in Big Rock, Illinois — an Anglican Church affiliated with the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest — was charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault.
A former lay pastor in a conservative Anglican denomination was charged Wednesday (Dec. 29) with two felony counts of criminal sexual assault in the Kane County, Illinois, circuit court. The charges come a year after Joanna Rudenborg reported Mark Rivera, her former neighbor, to Kane County police, accusing him of raping her in 2018 and again in 2020.
According to Pat Gengler, undersheriff at Kane County, bail was set at $50,000 and Rivera was released after a hearing. “He’s on home monitoring, so he does have a GPS bracelet which greatly restricts his movements,” said Gengler.
“I’m glad he was finally charged and the prosecution is happening,” said Rudenborg. “It’s certainly validating that the state looked at the evidence and said, this is a strong case worth pursuing. … I hope that my story being taken seriously by the authorities will help other people take other victims’ stories more seriously.”
Rivera is also being prosecuted on charges of felony sexual assault and predatory abuse of a victim under 13 years of age, and at least eight others have made allegations of abuse by Rivera, including child sexual abuse, grooming, rape and assault.
Rivera was a lay minister at Christ Our Light Anglican, an ACNA church plant in Big Rock, Illinois, from 2013 to 2019. He was also a volunteer leader at Church of the Resurrection — the headquarters of the Upper Midwest Diocese — in Wheaton, Illinois, from the mid-1990s until 2013.
On Aug. 28, ACNA announced the members of a Provincial Response Team that would oversee an investigation into the diocese’s handling of the allegations. The denomination was not able to respond to a request for comment by the time of publication, but according to an email sent from the Provincial Response Team to Rudenborg on Nov. 30 and shown to Religion News Service, the group was “ready to begin the initial vetting process to narrow down the list” of investigative firms. That list would then be voted on by both survivors and members of the Provincial Response Team. On Twitter, Rudenborg expressed frustration at the team’s lack of action.
“At this point, I’m safe from Mark, I’m not in any direct danger, so really what I want is for him to not be able to harm anyone else,” Rudenborg told RNS. “The only way we can be sure that that’s going to happen is if he goes back into custody. So it’s kind of still a waiting game.”
In December 2022, Rivera was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
Mark Rivera, 49, of Winfield was found guilty of two counts of felony predatory criminal sexual assault of a child and three felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on Feb. 10.
Rivera was a lay pastor at the Anglican Church of North America in Big Rock when he sexually assaulted a child under the age of 13 multiple times between June 2018 and May 2019, according to a news release from the Kane County state’s attorney’s office. The abuse was reported to authorities after the victim told her mother.
“Mr. Rivera is a predator who used his position of respectability and stature in a church and within the community to prey on this child with no consideration for the trauma he caused,” Kane County Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Rodgers said. “The victim showed great courage in telling her mother about his criminal conduct, in preparing for this trial and in facing him in court.”
Rivera will have to register for life as a sexual offender, authorities said. He remains in custody at the Kane County jail on $500,000 bail.
After Rivera’s arrest, it came to light that he allegedly molested other children. A damning third-party report was revealed in October 2022, calling into question the Anglican denomination’s culpability in Rivera’s crimes.
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.”
Ruch, bishop of the diocese, reportedly told investigators that he also knew that Lapeyre had been fired over a “boundary crossing” issue but took no action. Lapeyre said his termination didn’t limit his leadership opportunities at either Christ Our Light Anglican or Church of the Resurrection, the diocesan headquarters in Wheaton.
The report states that Lapeyre, a friend of Rivera’s, told investigators he was aware of sexual misconduct by Rivera involving an adult woman in 2018 but did not tell anyone about it until 2020.
The report goes on to say that Ruch and York did not attempt to learn more about additional abuse allegations against Rivera made known to them in 2019, and Ruch did not consider reaching out to parents of at-risk teens who might have been vulnerable to abuse by Rivera.
Released online late Tuesday evening (Sept. 27), the report follows a monthslong investigation that was contentious from the start due to the objections from some of Rivera’s accusers.
“I have no reason to believe that anything about this investigation is independent,” said Cherin Marie when the investigation was announced in January. Cherin Marie, whose then-9-year-old daughter reported being sexually abused by Rivera in May 2019, has asked that her last name not be used to protect her family’s privacy.
Joanna Rudenborg, who says she was abused by Rivera, too, tweeted on Sept. 17 about her skepticism toward the anticipated report: “(T)he investigation has never been about justice or healing for survivors. It has been first and foremost about doing damage control.”
Survivors and advocates affiliated with ACNAtoo, an anti-abuse advocacy group, have publicly criticized the report on social media for including explicit details about a minor’s sexual abuse without the child’s consent.
“The minor is one of multiple survivors of Mark Rivera’s sexual assault that chose not to participate in the investigation because it was obvious that the investigation was not safe,” Abbi Nye, an ACNAtoo advocate, tweeted on Friday morning. “They were right.”
Members of ACNAtoo say that while many of them reached out to ACNA leaders days ago asking them to redact the minor’s details, the report remains online, unedited.
“The account of the young girl’s abuse in the report is all hearsay, from two leaders who are implicated in mishandling her abuse,” Nye told RNS.
Investigators were asked to gather information about how ACNA leaders handled abuse allegations—but were barred from recommending charges or punishments.
“We were charged with gathering evidence regarding such issues and reporting the information collected, but we were explicitly directed not to render any legal determinations, evaluate or opine about any governance structure issues, or seek to address whether any discipline is warranted,” the firm wrote in its report.
The Rev. Gina Roes and Christen Price, an ordained deacon and attorney, respectively, told Religion News Service that the report is difficult to evaluate, given the severe limitations of its scope. Both women resigned in January from the Provincial Response Team originally charged with overseeing the investigations, claiming its process “never felt survivor-centered.”
“It sort of defeats the purpose of having an investigation if there are no conclusions that can be made from the report,” said Roes, pointing to the report’s lack of analysis. “It leaves it in the hands of the ACNA and the diocese to interpret and characterize those facts.”
When asked about next steps, Roes and Price said denominational leaders who were excluded from the report due to its diocesan scope should be investigated. “There needs to be an investigation of the province,” said Price, referring to ACNA.
In interviews with Husch Blackwell, Ruch admitted the diocese lacked protocols for responding to sexual misconduct allegations and left the matter largely for law enforcement to pursue.
But the report identifies another obstacle to reporting abuse: In notes and emails, church officials repeatedly expressed their belief in Rivera’s innocence.
“While I believe this entire accusation to be spurious (something has happened to this girl, but Mark is not the culprit), I fear however that this will spell the end of Christ Our Light,” York reportedly wrote in a May 20, 2019, email. “I believe Mark to be innocent. I would be stunned to find anything untoward with regard to his actions,” he wrote in another email days later.
Charles Philbrick, the church lawyer who reportedly advised York he wasn’t obligated to report the allegations, told Husch Blackwell he found the child’s allegations “hard to believe.” (The report says York was investigated by DCFS for failing to report, but nothing seems to have come from the investigation.) Philbrick said he gave Rivera a referral to a defense attorney, but only, he told investigators, out of his ethical obligation as an attorney, not in his capacity as chancellor, or church legal officer.
As you can see, what seemed important to denomination officials was protecting the “good” name of their sect and the churches in question. I suspect the “truth” has yet to be revealed as far as the extent of Rivera’s sexual misconduct is concerned. Heads should roll, but it is unlikely that they will. They will bury Rivera’s proverbial body, lament his fall from grace( he was such a nice guy), and move on. Left behind are Rivera’s victims. I hope the victims sue.
Yesterday, Rivera was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
A former lay pastor at a Big Rock church was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison for molesting a 9-year-old member of the church.
Kane County Judge John Barsanti sentenced Mark Rivera to six years apiece on two counts of predatory criminal sexual assault and three years on a charge of criminal sexual abuse.
Barsanti convicted him in December.
Rivera will have to serve at least 11.7 years before being eligible for parole but will receive credit for the approximately three years he has spent in jail or on electronic home monitoring while he awaited trial and sentencing.
On multiple times from June 2018 to May 2019, Rivera assaulted the child he knew. At the time, Rivera was a lay pastor at the Christ Our Light Anglican Church in Big Rock. The victim’s family attended the church.
The abuse happened at Rivera’s home in Big Rock.
The victim’s family and Rivera had previously attended a church in Wheaton.
Rivera, who now lives in Winfield, must register for life as a sex offender.
Rivera was also charged, in 2021, with sexually assaulting an adult who was unable to give consent due to intoxication. That case is scheduled for a jury trial in May in Kane County.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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