#ACNAtoo is a movement of survivors of ACNA-related abuse & their supporters seeking justice, repentance, healing & a healthier ACNA. This is an overview of the movement including what you can do to hear, to support, and to respond. By Whitney Evans Harrison and Conor Hanson.
Why we are here
In May 2019, Cherin’s 9-year-old daughter confided in her that she had been repeatedly sexually abused by Mark Rivera, a lay catechist at Christ Our Light Anglican (COLA), the church they attended in Big Rock, Illinois.
Reeling from this discovery, Cherin immediately reported her daughter’s allegations to her priest, Fr. Rand York. However, instead of walking with her through this ordeal, Fr. York and other church leaders at COLA neglected to report the allegations (although they were mandatory reporters by Illinois law) and pressured Cherin against reporting as well.
Resisting this pressure, Cherin reported the alleged abuse and in June 2019 Rivera was arrested and charged with felony child sexual assault and abuse. Cherin and her family were immediately ostracized at Christ Our Light for having gone to the police, which eventually led them to return to Church of the Resurrection (Cherin’s childhood church) where they hoped to recover as the investigation began. But rather than offering the care and support she hoped to receive from leaders she’d known most her life, the cathedral of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest instead supported Rivera financially, helped him find an expert defense lawyer, and accompanied him to his hearings.
Despite Cherin’s daughter’s allegations, Rivera’s nearly 20 year volunteer history at the church, and additional allegations of rape in 2020 by Rivera’s neighbor, Joanna Rudenborg, Bp. Ruch and Church of the Resurrection did not make the diocese aware of the crisis unfolding in their midst. Joanna, Cherin, and other advocates began pleading with leaders in the Upper Midwest to address the abuse and work to make their diocese safe for survivors.
To date,13 individuals have made allegations of abuse against Rivera, including child sexual abuse, indecent exposure, grooming, and rape. It was only in May 2021, two years after Cherin’s daughter first came forward, that the allegations against Rivera were finally made known to the diocese in a letter from Bp. Ruch, which downplayed the scope and seriousness of Rivera’s behavior, omitted the extent of his leadership involvement, and did not provide any direction or resources for additional survivors who wished to come forward.
Despite many months of communication with survivors and advocates, Bp. Ruch and his team dismissed their basic requests and concerns. Instead, they hired an investigative firm whose practices went in direct opposition to the survivor-centric standards for which they had exhaustively advocated.
After advocating with Bp. Ruch and his staff for 7 months, Joanna came forward in a June 26 Twitter thread as a last resort to outline her experience and advocate for accountability and justice, both for her case and for those of the other survivors, at last bringing public awareness to just how much lay beyond what Bp. Ruch’s letter indicated.
What is #ACNAtoo?
As a survivor-centric advocacy group, ACNAtoo’s mission is Advocacy for survivors of abuse in the ACNA, Accountability for key leaders within the ACNA to hold survivor-centered policies, and Education for all those within an Anglican context about the dynamics of spiritual/sexual abuse, and how to best prevent/respond to abuse in the church. ACNAtoo began as an advocacy group for survivors in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, but we are here to support people in all dioceses of the ACNA.
Our goals are to:
- Be a separate third space for ACNA abuse victims to come, share their story, be believed, find resources, and get directed to professional help.
- Advocate for victims by communicating with church leaders and holding them accountable to best practices of abuse response and prevention.
- Educate Anglican churches on the dynamics of spiritual and sexual abuse, and best practices in preventing and responding to abuse by generating and/or disseminating resources and content.
What does #ACNAtoo hope you hear from their work?
Everyone should be informed
To prevent abuse, we need to recognize what it looks like when it happens in our midst. All adult members of the ACNA need to know what survivors and their advocates are saying about how Bp. Ruch and the Diocese of the Upper Midwest have handled abuse allegations.
Every ACNA rector should address their congregation about what is going on. Statistically speaking, every congregation has survivors sitting in their pews, and how their community responds to this crisis in their own denomination will communicate clearly how that community would respond to them if and when they seek help, advocacy, justice, and healing.
Each ACNA bishop needs to address this clearly with his clergy and diocese to ensure that proper guidelines are in place that empower survivors and maintain transparency. We hope that each diocese in the ACNA takes time in light of these events to reevaluate their policies regarding abuse prevention and reporting, consulting with reputable experts like G.R.A.C.E. to establish survivor-centric policies and procedures for investigating abuse allegations and providing care and protection to survivors and their families beyond initial guidelines for reporting abuse allegations.
The process of justice needs to be survivor sensitive
In any situation of abuse, the voices of survivors and their families need to be heard and their concerns addressed by the ACNA community.
In the current crisis involving the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, the survivors and their families should be provided with the qualified, trauma-informed care of their choice at the expense of the Diocese, which has so far neglected to pay for any survivor care for Cherin, her daughter, or Joanna.
Additionally, any as yet unidentified victims of Mark Rivera should be provided with a safe way of coming forward and assured of adequate care and protection.The process of discovering other victims should be guided by qualified, trauma-informed, and independent professionals, not by the ACNA itself.
To read more of what #ACNAtoo outlines regarding the ongoing investigation into the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, please read the open letter from July 15, 2021.
How can I personally respond?
- Demand justice for survivors of abuse in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest by writing to your bishop, rector, and vestry.
- Ask your bishop to take steps to make sure that every ACNA ministry is equipped to follow best practices in abuse prevention and response.
- Educate yourself about what a survivor-centric response to abuse allegations looks like and learn about best practices in abuse prevention and reporting.
How do I prevent abuse in my own congregation/diocese?
Learning about trauma-informed and survivor-sensitive responses to abuse allegations is a key component to identifying and preventing situations of abuse. #ACNAtoo has compiled a page of resources and recommended materials on their resources page that can help you begin this process.
Another key aspect is to know your own context. Read your diocesan, parish, and ministry policies about abuse prevention and response. Compare what current policies are in place with what you are learning about best practices. Reference the materials provided by organizations like G.R.A.C.E. to discern how your parish/diocesan policies do or do not fall within these best practices. As you learn more about this, open up discussions with your fellow church members and work together to implement safer, more survivor-centric guidelines.
Educate yourself about the warning signs of spiritual and sexual abuse. Learning to identify the red flags in these areas can prevent abuse at the outset, as well as empowering you to serve survivors well as they identify their experience and seek healing.
Let us rend our hearts
As shameful as it feels to be confronted with our failures, we believe that exposure is an invitation from God to mature and refine us. We are not passionate about #ACNAtoo because of a lack of hope; rather, it is because we hold on to our hope of Christ’s redeeming work that we have the strength to enter this process with humility and lament. This is an opportunity to become more like Jesus. This is an opportunity to be a denomination in which those who do not yet know Christ are drawn to him because we manifest his character, particularly in our response to this current crisis.
We invite you to join us in our faith that the Jesus the ACNA worships is better than we have imagined. We invite you to ask him to build a new hope in you: that he wants to show you that he sees you and loves you wherever you are. We invite you to ask Jesus to grow your trust in him by opening your eyes to see God moving in ways that do not involve your exhausted striving, but rather an encounter with the living God who is active in the world.
In this moment, let us obey the words of the prophet Joel (2:12-15):
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.
If we can acknowledge the truth of what God is saying, and respond with humble repentance, with God’s help we can become people who can receive and give his healing power. He does not wish to bandage over the wound of his daughter lightly (Jer 8.11). He wishes to bring her resurrection.
Whitney Evans Harrison earned her degree in writing and literature from Wheaton College. She now works in publishing and is a member of the #ACNAtoo Advocacy Team. Whitney and her husband, Fr. Aaron Harrison, currently live in Carol Stream, IL with their son and Lila, their dachshund-beagle mix.
Conor Hanson is a former Greenhouse Catechist and a current stay-at-home dad. With degrees in Automotive and Philosophy, he likes reading non-fiction (with some fiction sprinkled in) and spending time with his wife and daughter. He currently lives in Minnesota and is learning to love it as a former Wisconsinite.