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 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 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