29 Aug Frequently Asked Questions about the Investigative Process
The investigations and canonical process described below originate from accusations raised in 2021 of diocesan leaders’ mishandling allegations of sexual abuse by Mark Rivera, a lay leader in a former diocesan church in Big Rock, IL.
Specific accusations of the two Presentments have not been publicized by the Province. However, they do not include any allegations against Bishop Stewart of sexual immorality, financial impropriety, heresy, apostasy, or refusal to follow admonitions of his superiors.
When a bishop, priest, or deacon is thought to have committed wrongdoing, a complaint or accusation may be brought against him or her in the form of a “Presentment.”
A Presentment is an Anglican term for a written accusation with supporting facts, which is signed and sworn to by the accusers and delivered to the Archbishop or College of Bishops.
In the ACNA, a Presentment against a Bishop can be initiated by one of two ways: 1) Three bishops of the ACNA, or 2) A group of six laypeople or clergy from within the Diocese and four from outside the Diocese, with at least one priest from within the Diocese.
There are two Presentments against Bishop Stewart: The Minnesota Presentment and the three Bishops’ Presentment. The Minnesota Presentment was drafted by an attendee (not a member) of Restoration Anglican in Minneapolis, who then circulated the Presentment widely to clergy and laity. A retired diocesan priest signed Bishop Stewart’s Presentment. The other priest who signed was from outside the Diocese and, to our knowledge, has never met Bishop Stewart. On August 11, 2023, the Province announced that a Board of Inquiry found probable cause to present Bishop Stewart for trial.
The three bishops agreed to sign a Presentment in December 2022 with an Addendum stating that they could not swear to its charges or even believed that the charges were true (see p. 7 of the Provincial Tribunal’s Decision & Order). In June 2023, however, the signing bishops decided to swear to the charges as required by the Provincial Canons. On September 7, 2023, the Province announced that this Presentment would go to a Board of Inquiry following the Tribunal’s ruling. On November 6, 2023, the Province announced that a Board of Inquiry found probable cause to present Bishop Stewart for trial.
The Minnesota Presentment charges Bishop Stewart with “violation of ordination vows,” “conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense, including the abuse of ecclesiastical power,” and “disobedience, or willful contravention of the Canons of this Church or of the constitution or canons of the Diocese in which he holds office” (C&C IV.2.3, 4, 9, p. 29).
The specific accusations have not been publicized by the Province. However, the Presentment does not include any allegations against Bishop Stewart of sexual immorality, financial impropriety, heresy, apostasy, or refusal to follow admonitions of his superiors. It is largely based on information the author gleaned from the internet.
The three Bishops’ Presentment also charges Bishop Stewart with violations of Canon IV.2.4 “Conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense, including the abuse of ecclesiastical power,” as well as Canon IV.2.10 “Habitual neglect of the duties of his Office”.
Bishop Stewart is grateful that an ecclesiastical trial will provide an opportunity for all sides to be heard and all the evidence to be considered.
No. Anyone can create a presentment, or list of charges, gather signatures, swear to the charges, and submit it to the Archbishop or College of Bishops.
Bishop Stewart is grateful for a clear canonical process and welcomes the opportunity for all sides to be heard in the Ecclesiastical Trial (see his letter of August 15).
The nature of a Board of Inquiry and an Ecclesiastical Trial are described further below.
First and foremost, we believe that abuse of any kind has no place in society and certainly not in the body of Christ. We are heartbroken anytime individuals suffer abuse within or without the context of the church.
Churches of the Diocese of the Upper Midwest continue to have effective child protection practices in place. The Diocese is continuing to learn how better to serve the people in our churches and desires to improve where needed. We give thanks for the many hours that gifted leaders, lay people, and outside experts are contributing to cultivate the Diocese. You can learn the latest updates on our task forces here.
When the Archbishop receives a presentment, he selects a Board of Inquiry to investigate the charges by evaluating the accusations and the proofs from the accusers. The Board may, at this point, ask for a counter-response from the accused bishop, but they are not required to do so.
The Board of Inquiry must include at least five priests and five adult baptized members, none of whom belong to the Diocese of the accused. These members are selected by the Archbishop and are not known to the general public.
If, by a two-thirds vote, the Board of Inquiry finds that there are reasonable grounds to put the accused to trial, a public declaration is made and the ecclesiastical trial process begins. Here is the declaration regarding Bishop Stewart for the Minnesota Presentment.
An ecclesiastical court is both similar to and different from a United States civil and criminal court. One key difference is that the judge and jury are the same group of people.
The members of the Court for the Trial of a Bishop act like a jury because they will determine the facts of accusations and the defense. The members of the Court are elected every three years and their identities can be found here (p. 2). They include three bishops, two priests, and two adult confirmed lay members (C&C, IV.5.2, p. 32).
The Archbishop selects a prosecuting lawyer and a lawyer to serve as counsel to the Court members. The accused bishop is responsible for securing his own legal representation. The burden of proof for a guilty verdict is “clear and convincing,” meaning, evidence that is highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.
If a “not-guilty” verdict is rendered, there is no sentencing.
If the Court renders a “guilty” verdict against the bishop, then the Archbishop and the College of Bishops (the body of all ACNA bishops) determine sentencing. Potential sentences range from: “Censure and/or admonishment; temporary suspension for a period up to five years; permanent suspension for life;” or “deposition from the sacred ministry,” known in other traditions as defrocking (C&C IV.5.2-3, p. 35).
The accused bishop may appeal to the Provincial Tribunal within 30 days of the Court’s decision. The Tribunal would request the entire trial transcript and hold a hearing for both parties to present arguments based upon the trial record. Within 30 days of that hearing, “The Provincial Tribunal may reverse or affirm, in whole or in part, the appealed decision or, if in its opinion justice shall require, may grant a new trial” (C&C IV.5.5-6, pp. 33-34)
An accused bishop who is tried by a Provincial Court is guaranteed familiar rights in the canonical process. These include the right to representation of counsel, the right to an expeditious trial, the right to confront and examine witnesses, fairness and due process, and the presumption of innocence.
We don’t know the timeline going forward. The Ecclesiastical Court will schedule a trial date(s).
In May 2019, we learned of allegations of sexual abuse committed by Mark Rivera. The accusations were unrelated to Rivera’s role as lay leader of a former church in our Diocese, Christ Our Light, of Big Rock, IL. Immediately, the church leadership removed Rivera from his role in the church, and in June the police arrested Rivera. In late 2020, allegations of further abuse by Mark Rivera became known to diocesan leadership. The Diocese engaged Grand River Solutions, a third-party investigative firm, to investigate the matter in early 2021.
In summer of 2021, the Province took on oversight of the Diocese’s investigation into the handling of this situation. They then turned the investigation over to a new firm, Husch Blackwell, in February 2022. Husch Blackwell released its report in September 2022, but removed it several days later. See the Province’s explanation here. It has not yet been re-released.
Three separate third-party investigations regarding our Diocese have taken place, followed by the recent Presentment against Bishop Stewart which has led to a forthcoming ecclesiastical trial.
According to Husch Blackwell’s report of September 2022, the Province tasked it with answering these six questions:
- When did individuals accused of mishandling an allegation become aware of the allegations?
- Did people in authority receive advice and what actions did that take?
- Were there concrete ways that a person facilitated or hindered either survivors from coming forward or the diocesan response?
- What actions of sexual misconduct took place, by and against whom, and in what context?
- Whether information was or should have been known that might have led to earlier identification of any wrongdoing?
- Whether the investigation identified other survivors whose abuse came at the hands of church leaders in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest?
The report states, “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. “
Yes. On March 6, 2023, Mark Rivera was sentenced to 15 years in prison for felony child sexual abuse and assault of a child who was his goddaughter. Read more here.
Rivera later pleaded guilty to charges of rape brought by an adult resident of Big Rock, Illinois, who is unaffiliated with the Diocese.
In the summer of 2021, complaints were made regarding aspects of the Diocese’s leadership and certain clergy member’s pastoral practices. The Diocese and the Province desired to lead a comprehensive process to assess the concerns that were brought forward. The Province selected Telios Law firm to receive and review allegations of abuse of ecclesiastical power. This spring, Telios sent final letters to individuals who participated in its investigation, including Bishop Stewart. In September 2022, the Province announced that an update on the status of the Telios report would be forthcoming.
Since October 2021, the Provincial Office has had full control over the pace and release of information regarding these investigations.
Diocesan leadership has not wanted to impede the investigation or cause further harm to any persons by making online statements regarding the allegations. In addition, it is not our practice to disclose publicly the confidential details of individual pastoral situations.
While we wish this process were faster for all involved, we believe a clear canonical process and ecclesiastical trial will help bring about justice and healing.
Bishop Stewart took a temporary, voluntary leave of absence which began in July 2021. He personally requested this leave in order to allow the Province to carry out an impartial and thorough investigation concerning his and the Diocese’s oversight of the allegations of sexual abuse by a lay leader of the former congregation, Christ Our Light of Big Rock, IL.
Bishop Stewart’s voluntary leave of absence was not disciplinary or punitive. It allowed appropriate space for a third-party investigation into our Diocese’s response to allegations of sexual abuse within our congregations.
Bishop Stewart returned from his voluntary leave of absence after consulting with Archbishop Foley Beach in October 2022 (read Bishop Stewart’s letter here). The Province assigned a senior bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, to walk alongside him and the Diocese until April 2023. Since then, Bishop Martyn has continued to serve the Diocese as a consultant and lead a task force at the request of Bishop Stewart, with approval of the Bishop’s Council (the Standing Committee).
You can find the latest updates on diocesan task forces here.
Please pray for all who are hurting and that God’s truth would be revealed in the ongoing process. Trust in the Lord of the Church to protect and guide us all through this challenging season. Please bring any questions or concerns to your clergy or pastoral leaders.