BIG ROCK, Ill. (CBS) — A spiritual leader and trusted family friend is now accused of the unthinkable – sexually assaulting his goddaughter.
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar spoke exclusively with the mother of that young child, who wants to encourage other victims to come forward.
A woman who goes by Cherin Marie says the church that she loved in Big Rock, Illinois failed her — and in a new complaint filed Wednesday, the big question is what church leaders knew and when.
Big Rock, Illinois is in Kane County some 50 miles west of Chicago.
“Very small town, very quaint, very friendly,” Cherin said.
And in Big Rock, a little church now faces massive allegations.
Cherin talked about the importance of Mark Rivera in her family’s life.
“Mark was a groomsman at my wedding, godfather to my children, one of our closest friends,” she said.
Cherin said she helped Rivera – a community leader, close friend, and lay leader at the church – start the now-dissolved Christ Our Light Anglican Church, which rented space at a church building in Big Rock.
“This church was our whole life,” she said.
The same church would forever change her family.
“My daughter, three years ago yesterday, came home and told me that this pastor – close friend of ours – had been sexually abusing her,” Cherin said.
In June 2019, Rivera was charged with sexually assaulting Cherin’s then-9-year-old daughter over a span of months.
Cherin said she brought the allegations to church leaders in May 2019, but was dismissed and encouraged not to report Rivera.
“I didn’t want this to be true,” Cherin said. “This truly was one of our closest friends.”
“The complaint alleges that the church, Christ Our Light, failed to protect this particular minor child from Mr. Rivera,” added Cherin’s attorney, Evan Smola.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Kane County Court, Smola said church leaders were notified of a separate sexual assault case in 2018 — prior to the alleged assault of the 9-year-old — but nothing was done by the church.
Rivera has since been charged in that other case too.
“Despite this knowledge, they did not kick Mark out of the church. They didn’t warn any parents,” Smola said. “The access, the trust, the ability to groom in this case is what led to this abuse.”
In a letter to congregants two years after Rivera was charged, a church leader admitted mistakes were made. The letter reads in part, “Let me say at the start that I made regrettable errors in this process.”
“The only thing that gives me courage and strength to do this on my daughter’s behalf,” Cherin said. “She’s the brave that came forward and spoke up about this,” Cherin said.
To be clear, Christ Our Light Anglican Church has dissolved. The church that currently occupies the church building where Christ Our Light rented space is not affiliated.
We reached out to for comment to the Anglican Diocese, the Church of the Resurrection, and The Greenhouse Movement for comment, as all were named as respondents in the complaint filed Wednesday. We did not hear back.
Attorneys for Cherin said at least two external investigations were launched around the time of Rivera’s arrest. But three years later, the findings have not been published.
A trial for Rivera has been set for July.