ACNA Bishop Stewart Ruch will face church trial

Bishop Stewart Ruch III.(Photo: Diocese of the Upper Midwest)

Bishop Stewart Ruch, a controversial figure in the Anglican Church in North America, will be brought to a church court trial, according to an announcement published to the denomination's website on Tuesday afternoon.

On July 10, a 10-person board of inquiry selected by the denomination's leader, Archbishop Foley Beach, received a presentment (or list of charges) against Ruch. The board submitted a public declaration on Friday that said at least two-thirds of the board found there was probable cause to present Ruch for trial. Specifically, per the denomination's bylaws, they found grounds to try Ruch for violation of his ordination vows, for "conduct giving just cause for scandal or offense, including the abuse of ecclesiastical power" and for "disobedience, or willful contravention" of the denominational or diocesan bylaws.

The charges against Ruch in the July 10 presentment will be sent to a court whose members are elected by diocesan representatives.

Though the announcement Tuesday did not include details about the presentment in question, there was a presentment against Ruch in June obtained by Religion News Service. The result of a grassroots effort led by members of Minnesota churches in the Upper Midwest Diocese, that presentment cites seven cases in which Ruch is accused of either failing to prioritize victims in the wake of abuse allegations or knowingly welcoming individuals with histories of predatory behavior into diocesan churches without alerting church members.

"(H)is pattern and practice of knowingly welcoming and elevating individuals who could prey on his congregations has continued beyond the events of 2019 that compelled the ACNA Province to initiate third-party investigations," the presentment says. "(H)e has transformed what should be, of all spaces, a sanctuary for the most vulnerable into a target for predation."

Earlier this year, Ruch attempted to block a different, previous presentment brought against him by three ACNA bishops. According to a June 7 statement released by Beach, Ruch made a "secret appeal" to ACNA's seven-member Provincial Tribunal to call off the investigation. After the tribunal issued a stay order, Beach and other denominational leaders questioned the impartiality of four tribunal members. He also asserted that the denomination's bylaws don't give the tribunal authority to issue a stay order.

In June, the College of Bishops and Provincial Council, governing bodies composed of bishops and diocesan representatives, respectively, passed a canonical amendment that prevents the Provincial Tribunal from intervening in disciplinary proceedings before they run their course. The final form of the amendment would need to be ratified in 2024. The Provincial Tribunal is currently considering the initial presentment against Ruch, according to Tuesday's denominational announcement.

Ruch has admitted making "regrettable errors" in how he handled allegations of sexual abuse by Mark Rivera, a lay minister in Ruch's diocese who has since been convicted of felony sexual assault and felony child sexual assault. In July 2021, Ruch took a leave of absence as bishop of the Upper Midwest Diocese, headquartered in Wheaton, Illinois, but returned in October 2022, despite an ongoing investigation into spiritual abuse allegations against him.

Ruch has issued a statement responding to his trial: "While this may seem unexpected, the canonical process to bring a bishop to trial is meant to be confidential unless and until a Board of Inquiry determines there are sufficient grounds to send the case to trial. An ecclesiastical trial will provide an opportunity for all the evidence to be considered. While this is difficult news, I am thankful that we are engaged in a canonical process that is moving forward. I am relieved that there will be an occasion to hear all sides and gain some resolution after two years."

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