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Firm Hired to Investigate Allegations of Misconduct in Upper Midwest

Husch Blackwell LLP has been elected to serve as the firm contracted to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct and mishandling in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest. Husch Blackwell is a national firm and the team engaged for this investigation is based out of their Chicago, Illinois office.

In late June 2021, the Anglican Church in North America was notified 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. On July 10, Archbishop Foley Beach announced the Province’s acceptance of a request from the Diocese to take on oversight of the investigation and called for the formation of a Provincial Response Team. The Province is a separate legal entity from the Diocese of the Upper Midwest.

The Provincial Response Team (PRT) of experienced men and women, laity and clergy, began building a process to contract a third-party investigative firm that is trauma-informed, properly experienced, and capable of competently investigating this matter.

The PRT developed a set of criteria, with input from some of the alleged survivors, to vet potential firms. The PRT then began the process of engaging potential investigators based upon those criteria, contacting eleven firms. Out of those contacted, the PRT determined two firms sufficiently met the selection criteria. All alleged survivors known to us were sent the names of these two firms and a summary description of each and were asked to vote or to indicate no preference.  These votes, along with the vote of each member of the PRT, resulted in the selection and subsequent engagement of Husch Blackwell.  The Province is grateful for the time and energy the other firms gave to us as the PRT considered them.

In the midst of this painful and complex situation, the Province is committed to a full investigation, in which Husch Blackwell will have complete discretion to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and mishandling within the Diocese. They will determine independently what leads to follow and who to interview.

The Province has no interest in protecting any persons in our dioceses and churches who commit abuse or misconduct.  Our deep desire is that the Anglican Church in North America be a safe place for adults and children, the wounded and the vulnerable. In order to maintain confidentiality and protect the stories and testimonies of all those who have participated in this process to date, we will not waive attorney-client privilege.

The selection criteria developed by the PRT in consultation with alleged survivors required that an eligible firm:

  1. will conduct an impartial investigation;
  2. is trauma-informed by experience and training and conducts its investigations accordingly;
  3. is free of all real and apparent conflicts of interest;
  4. has read our Constitution and Canons and can work objectively with the Anglican Church in North America;
  5. understands the difference between an independent investigation and an internal investigation and commits to the former; and,
  6. would be available to commence the investigation promptly.

Husch Blackwell’s experience includes sexual assault investigations on scores of college campuses over the past 10 years, K‐12 sexual misconduct investigations involving minors, and investigations of sexual abuse allegations within various religious environments (some involving minors as well). Notably, Husch Blackwell is a nationally recognized provider of training and legal services in the area of preventing and addressing sexual misconduct, and they are regularly asked to present and speak about these issues across the country.

The Husch Blackwell team includes men and women and is trauma-informed. They seek to provide survivor complainants with information about the process, acknowledge the challenges in describing the sensitive experiences of those traumatized, and provide options to tailor the interview environment to the alleged survivor’s needs to maximize their sense of safety while sharing their story, without compromising the fact‐finding goals. They will conduct interviews with a posture of patience, expressing compassion and empathy without sacrificing neutrality, and asking non-leading and clarifying questions.

Husch Blackwell has agreed to conduct this investigation with the highest care for those injured while still engaging in an impartial quest for the truth. Although the Province is the client for this investigation, engagement with the firm is solely to investigate this matter.  Husch Blackwell will not perform any future work for and will not represent the Province, the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, Bishop Stewart Ruch, any alleged survivor, witness, or anyone else connected to this matter as it pertains to this investigation. The firm does not have any known current conflicts of interest. The firm will prioritize not interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations or cases and will produce a public report at the conclusion of their investigation, appropriately redacted to protect the identities of survivors.

The Province will publicly relay information from Husch Blackwell detailing how survivors, witnesses, and anyone with relevant information can participate in the investigation.

Any specific allegations of abuse of ecclesiastical power within the Diocese will also be subject to an additional investigation by the Province and will also be publicly announced.

Please join us in praying that this investigation helps bring resolution out of this deeply tragic situation.

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A note about the investigative firm GRACE of Lynchburg, Virginia:

 GRACE, a firm which had been used previously in a high-profile investigation at an Anglican Church in North America congregation, was in consideration at the beginning of the vetting process.  On July 19, 2021, the founder, current board member, and fundraiser for GRACE publicly communicated that he was representing the family of one of the alleged victims.  On November 29, 2021, this attorney also sent the Province a legal notice.  This legal notice increased a conflict of interest that could not be overcome for GRACE to be considered further.

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