A bishop in the Anglican Church in North America is heading toward a church trial as he has been accused of mishandling allegations of sexual abuse and spiritual abuse.
ACNA announced on Tuesday that Bishop Stewart Ruch III of the Anglican Diocese of the Upper Midwest, which is based in Wheaton, Illinois, will face an ecclesiastical trial.
This decision came via a Board of Inquiry that investigated a presentment, or a written document laying out charges filed by multiple clergy, submitted in June. The presentment will next be sent to the Court for the Trial of a Bishop, according to ACNA.
A public declaration Tuesday states that in the judgment of at least two-thirds of the Board of Inquiry, there is probable cause to bring Ruch to trial for violations of Canon IV.2.3, Canon IV.2.4, and Canon IV.2.9. Specifically, he is being tried for violating ordination vows, “conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense, including the abuse of ecclesiastical power” and for “disobedience, or willful contravention” of denominational bylaws.
In a statement, Ruch said he is “thankful” and “relieved that there will be an occasion to hear all sides and gain some resolution after two years.”
“Please bring your concerns to your clergy, vestry, or parish councils, who will offer care in every way possible. I am so thankful for your faithfulness in praying for healing for all and for the Lord’s leading during this painful season,” Ruch stated.
“Please pray for everyone involved in these proceedings. And pray that, in the meantime, our diocesan churches receive God’s blessing as they continue to carry out their Gospel work.”
In June 2021, ACNA was informed that there had been an “erosion of trust in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest due to allegations that the Diocese mishandled accusations of sexual misconduct.”
One prominent example was ACNA lay leader Mark Rivera, who was arrested and eventually found guilty of multiple charges of sexual assault, including against his 9-year-old goddaughter.
Issues over how the diocese handled the allegations led to the creation of ACNAtoo, a watchdog group centered on abuse survivors and their advocates within the denomination.
Last year, ACNA hired Husch Blackwell LLP to investigate the Upper Midwest Diocese, with the law firm releasing a report last September detailing allegations of sexual misconduct and how the claims were handled.
Regarding allegations against Rivera, the report said that Ruch believed that it was a matter for law enforcement “to uncover whether there was criminal conduct or not” and that the church was there to provide pastoral care to both the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator.
Last October, 16 months after Ruch voluntarily went on a leave of absence in response to the concerns over his handling of allegations, the bishop returned to his office, with Bishop Martyn Minns serving in a supervisory role at the regional body.
In June, ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach announced that Ruch had “made a secret appeal to the Provincial Tribunal” in January to try and declare a presentment made against him by multiple bishops invalid.
“The Tribunal failed to give proper notice to me, the Presenting Bishops, or the Provincial Chancellors. We were not given a copy of what Bishop Ruch filed and we were not given opportunity to address the issue,” Beach said.
“We did not even know the Tribunal was involved until it issued on February 4, 2023, what it called a ‘stay order,’ attempting to block the process and compel me to halt the process of fulfilling my canonically mandated responsibility to appoint a Board of Inquiry and referring the Presentment to it.”
According to Beach, four of the seven tribunal members had “clear conflicts of interest in the related controversy and should have recused themselves,” with the archbishop accusing the body of “attempts to usurp authority not granted to it in the Constitution and Canons.”
The tribunal denied Beach’s request for recusal of the four members, with the body concluding that recusal was “an individual decision” and defended the stay order by noting that “it was in the best interest of the principles of fundamental justice and procedural fairness to preserve the status quo.”
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