jQuery Slider

You are here

CAROL'S STORY - Parts 1 and 2


September 29, 2021

The following account may be triggering for some readers. This story documents alleged older child to younger child sexual abuse at Church of the Resurrection, which was further compounded by the church leadership's alleged mishandling of these allegations. The youth pastor at that time knew of the abuse, failed to respond appropriately, and caused additional harm and trauma in his response to the children involved. To clarify, the events described below took place before the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) province had been formed.

Who's Who

"Carol" - a survivor who alleges sexual abuse by an older boy when she was a child at Church of the Resurrection and subsequent mishandling of those allegations by Church of the Resurrection staff and parishioners.
Church of the Resurrection - a large ACNA parish located in Wheaton, IL that serves as the Cathedral Church for the Diocese of the Upper Midwest.
Keith Hartsell - youth pastor at Church of the Resurrection during the time of this story, later a priest in the Diocese of the Upper Midwest & a high-ranking leader of The Greenhouse Movement.

I have chosen to write this under the pseudonym "Carol." This is not to protect my own identity, but to safeguard that of other victims, including the child perpetrator, whom I also consider to be a victim the church failed to help. I have intentionally omitted some details and left others vague in order to ensure the anonymity of everyone besides church leadership.

I spent most of my childhood and adolescence attending Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois. When I was eleven years old, an older boy at the church began molesting me. At that time, Church of the Resurrection did not yet have their own church building and rented space at 1825 College Avenue in Wheaton, which Resurrection used as their church office space and Ministry Center. Sunday morning services were held in the auditorium of Glenbard West High School at the time.

The first time this boy molested me was at the Church of the Resurrection Ministry Center in a room full of children. With no adults present, a large group of kids were watching a VeggieTales movie together in a dark secluded back room while our parents attended a service in the nearby sanctuary. All the lights were off in order to make the movie more visible. I would estimate that there were around twenty children present. In this dark room, surrounded by other kids, I was sitting next to an older boy from the church and enjoying the movie. Unexpectedly, this boy moved closer, leaned over me, forced his hand inside my pants and underwear, and painfully abused me while I sat frozen in shock. I was eleven years old.

This boy molested me more times than I can count. His behavior escalated as I grew older. He regularly sought out and took advantage of opportunities to get me alone, often in a back room or hallway at one of the rented church buildings. These sexual violations were persistent and ongoing, regularly occurring at both church locations over a three to four year period of time.

In the early 2000's, around a year after the boy had finally stopped abusing me, I received an unexpected phone call from Keith Hartsell, who was my youth pastor at Church of the Resurrection at the time. While I was very involved in the Church of the Resurrection Youth Group, I was confused and anxious when Keith asked if he could take me out for ice cream to talk with me about something. At sixteen years old I had recently gotten my driver's license, so I drove myself to meet with Keith at a Cold Stone Creamery in the Wheaton area. I had no idea what to expect. He gave me no warning about why he wanted to talk to me or what was to come.

At Cold Stone, Keith bought me an ice cream and we sat down together at a nearby table. I was blindsided when Keith then told me that he had become aware that I had been engaging sexually with the older boy from the church. Stunned and terrified, I thought I was in enormous trouble. I sat frozen in fear while Keith proceeded to ask me multiple intrusive questions about what kind of sexual things this boy and I had been doing. Even though I had told Keith that this sexual contact started when I was years younger, the way he framed the situation made me feel like he saw this as sexual sin for which I was equally culpable. He questioned me intensely about what exactly had occurred, when this sexual contact had started, when it had ended, and whether any other children had ever been involved.

I realize now that I must have been in shock while Keith was questioning me. I remember my answers coming out robotically, detached from the terror and disorientation I felt internally as I admitted to everything and complied with his intrusive requests for specific details. As is common with children who have experienced unwanted sexual contact, I believed what had happened was my fault, that I had somehow willingly participated in it, and that I had failed to maintain sexual purity. I had carried a crushing burden of shame and guilt over this for years, so by the time Keith questioned me about it I answered accordingly -- as if I were guilty of lust and sexual sin. Keith's responses only solidified this internal narrative.

At one point in our conversation, I remember Keith specifically asking me whether any penetration had occurred between me and this boy. Not really understanding what this meant, I answered that it had not. I naively thought that penetration referred only to outright sexual intercourse (which this boy had actually attempted on at least one occasion). Of course, this boy had first violated me with digital penetration and this was something that was forced on me on numerous subsequent occasions. As a sixteen-year-old child at the time Keith questioned me, I was in no way equipped to answer these inappropriate and violating questions in a way that spoke truth to what had really happened. Far from giving me any freedom from my guilt and humiliation, Keith seemingly affirmed my abuse as sexual sin and drove me further into shame and silence.

After questioning me, Keith asked me to attend a meeting at the Resurrection Ministry Center. I do not remember exactly when this meeting was scheduled, but I would estimate it was a few days to a week after the one-on-one meeting at Coldstone. I was not told what this second meeting would entail. When I arrived at the Resurrection church building, Keith ushered me into the Rez Youth Room, where some other minor children from the youth group, including the older boy who had molested me, were already waiting. Keith was the only adult in the room; everyone else was a minor. At this meeting Keith instructed and pressured me to apologize to and forgive the boy who had molested me, and made the boy do the same to me. Looking back now, I am fairly certain that this meeting took place in the same room where this boy first molested me.

At the end of the meeting, my impression was that Keith was extremely satisfied with himself, as if some great healing and reconciliation had taken place. From what I could tell, Keith considered the entire issue resolved by making me and this boy exchange apologies and forgiveness, as there was no additional follow-up with me. No other clergy member or church leader ever spoke to me about any of this again. Although I continued attending Church of the Resurrection with my family and regularly saw and interacted with this boy at church, I immediately began distancing myself from the Rez Youth Group and thankfully was not subjected to any additional unwanted sexual touching.

A few years later, Keith was made aware of yet more serious allegations concerning the same boy who had molested me. This time Keith made a report to DCFS. Although I was no longer attending Church of the Resurrection regularly at this time and I do not know all of what happened surrounding this report, what I do know (much of which I cannot share here due to others' confidentiality) leaves me outraged and heartbroken: Some members of Church of the Resurrection, including the boy's parents, were livid that Keith reported this boy's abusive behavior to DCFS instead of addressing the allegations privately with the boy's family. Despite evidence that this boy had continued acting out sexually against younger girls, and even though his ongoing abusive behavior had ultimately precipitated a formal report to the authorities, no one in church leadership reached out to me about my own experience or to make sure this boy hadn't continued abusing me.

Over the years, I would hear various members of Church of the Resurrection express their anger over the DCFS report that Keith had made. The outrage towards Keith (which was still very strong years after the fact) is astonishing to look back on. During these conversations I did not disclose my own experience with this boy. It was clearly unsafe to do so. The collective moral imperative I absorbed was that these matters should always be handled "within the family" and that no one thought this boy's behavior had warranted outside intervention. Multiple Resurrection members believed that Keith, acting as a church leader, had sinned against the boy's family and violated their trust by reporting his abuse to the authorities. One person who spoke openly about this in front of me specifically said that Keith had failed to obey God because obligation to God and to the church always overrode any legal obligations to report abuse. Some of the Resurrection members who held and expressed these opinions later went on to become clergy and lay leaders within the diocese.

I absorbed this collective opinion as the years went by and it deeply impacted me. Hearing others angry at Keith for reporting this boy's abusive behavior affirmed everything Keith had implied in his interactions with me as my youth pastor when I was sixteen. I believed I must have engaged in sexual sin with this boy, despite the fact that I had never willingly touched him sexually or initiated this contact in any way. The first time I went to confession as a young adult at Church of the Resurrection, I confessed my past interactions with this boy as lust and sexual sin. Ironically, my confession was made to a priest who had been angry at Keith Hartsell for reporting this boy's abusive behavior to DCFS.

It was not until well into my adulthood that I was able to begin finding freedom from the narrative that Keith and others had framed for me. As I pressed into my own healing work, I shared these childhood experiences with a licensed counselor who immediately identified and named all of this as sexual abuse. I eventually found the courage to confront my mom about why she had failed to get me counseling help as a child for what this boy had done to me. I had spent nearly two decades of my life believing that my parents had been informed about all of this by the church, but that my mom and dad had been so ashamed of me that they had just chosen not to talk to me about it. This was not the case. My parents had never been told anything about this and were outraged and dumbfounded that the church had not informed them.

Keith Hartsell, a Church of the Resurrection youth pastor, knew that sexual contact had occurred for years between me and an older boy at the church, questioned me privately and intrusively about this as a minor child, then made me meet with this boy and apologize to and forgive him, yet Keith never informed my parents about this at any point. My parents were active members and volunteers at Church of the Resurrection at the time Keith arranged the two meetings he had me attend, but church leadership who knew of the situation decided it was appropriate to keep all of this hidden from them.

Presumably, Keith (and whatever other Church of the Resurrection leaders knew) did not identify this as abusive sexual behavior, but saw it simply as kids experimenting sexually and believed it needed to be addressed as a sexual purity issue, despite my young age at the time it began. To this day, I have no knowledge of how Keith even found out about me and the older boy, what other clergy members or church leaders also knew about it, or whether any other clergy approved of Keith (an untrained youth pastor) investigating and handling the situation, as he so carelessly did. Stewart Ruch was the rector at Church of the Resurrection at the time but I am unsure whether he was aware of my situation or not.

Had the Church of the Resurrection leadership handled this appropriately when Keith first found out, my parents and DCFS would have been immediately informed and I would most likely have been interviewed by a trained and qualified professional. If a qualified professional had interviewed me, it would have been immediately apparent that the situation was not just kids messing around or engaging in sexual experimentation. I would never have been pressured to apologize to and forgive the boy who had violated me sexually, countless times. This likely never would have been swept under the rug. My parents would not have been denied the opportunity to get me help and counseling. The entire trajectory of my life may have been significantly different. Had this been handled appropriately, other children's abuse may have been prevented.

I am not bringing this painful story to light in order to elicit sympathy for myself. I am telling this story because I want others who experienced unwanted sexual touching from another child to know that what happened to them is not their fault. I spent years of my life believing that I had participated in and even invited this sexual contact and that I was somehow guilty of sexual sin. I hope this story can empower others who have had a similar experience to pursue their own healing and to break free from any false guilt and shame.

It is also not my desire to vilify the boy who was a child himself when these sexual violations against me first began. Although the damage his actions have caused is enormous, I have not held onto any bitterness or hatred towards him for what he did. I am telling this story in part because I want this boy (now a grown man) to know that I hope he will someday reckon with this bravely and openly, if he has not done so already.

This story is also important because it exposes a long-standing pattern of mishandling child sexual abuse by Church of the Resurrection clergy. It sheds light on the church culture that left many Resurrection members angry at Keith Hartsell for rightly calling DCFS in response to later abuse allegations. The grievous damage that was caused, both by church leaders and by members within the church community, desperately needs to be known, talked about, and learned from. The church had an opportunity to protect multiple children when they first became aware of my situation, and then again when later allegations came out. Instead, their repeated mishandling was devastating to me and possibly many other children at Church of the Resurrection as well.

By all appearances, no one at Church of the Resurrection learned anything from this situation. Keith went on to be ordained as a deacon and then a priest at Church of the Resurrection. He now leads his own congregation within the Upper Midwest Diocese and is a high-ranking leader in the Greenhouse Movement. The members of Church of the Resurrection who criticized Keith for involving the authorities continue to influence and feed the pervasive culture of secrecy and self-preservation within the church and diocese that allowed this to be swept under the rug in the first place.

My hope is that by adding my story to the others that have recently been told, I can help push to change this diseased culture and save other children from enduring the same fate I did.



Carol's Story Part 2: An Open Letter from Carol's Parents to Church of the Resurrection
On September 16, 2021, we published the story of a survivor under the pseudonym Carol.
"Carol's" parents also want to speak out and ask Church of the Resurrection how they plan to address Carol's allegations. Here is the letter Carol's parents asked us to post, with Carol's permission.
We are the parents of Carol, who recently shared her painful story of sexual abuse from almost two decades ago, when she was a child at Church of the Resurrection.

When our daughter disclosed her childhood abuse to us earlier this year, we discovered she had believed falsely for years that my husband and I had known of her abuse and had chosen not to discuss it with her because we were ashamed of her or felt it had already been handled. We were absolutely horrified. It was heartbreaking to learn that our child had been subjected to violating and traumatic sexual abuse at such a young age and for such a long period of time.

Our heartbreak turned quickly to anger and outrage when my daughter further shared how her youth pastor had questioned her privately about her abuse (when she was barely 16 years old), and then instructed her to attend a meeting with her abuser, where she was required to apologize to and forgive him. As painful as it was to learn of our daughter's abuse, it was almost as difficult to come to understand how the church chose to respond when they knew of a years-long abusive situation taking place between children within the Rez youth group.

Carol's Mom: I felt like my world started moving in slow motion as my daughter told me about these traumatic experiences, not just of her abuse, but of the response by a leader from Church of the Resurrection, a person we trusted as a church family member. How could a church leader have known about this and not told my husband and me? After sharing her story with me, my daughter immediately called my husband at work to confirm that he also had not known about her abuse or the church's response to it.

Carol's Dad: When I first heard what had happened all those years ago, I was just shocked! I also felt that the church leader's actions surrounding our daughter's situation were criminal. For a church staff member to have found out about long term sexual abuse taking place, and then keep all of this from us as her parents, just defied our comprehension.

At the time our daughter's sexual abuse was occurring, we were active and dedicated members of Church of the Resurrection. My husband and I volunteered in various roles at the church over the years and gave of ourselves physically, emotionally, and financially. After a decade of extending ourselves to participate in and help with weekly services, we realized that, despite our efforts, we were always kept at a distance by many of the Rez leaders and their spouses. Acceptance within Rez did not seem to correlate with genuine participation and dedication to the church and its people, but rather to some unspoken social hierarchy, under which our family seemed unworthy of the same level of inclusion as others. We eventually had enough and finally left the church, but not until years after our daughter had, unbeknownst to us, been through all of this already.

As the reality of our daughter's experience began to fully sink in, we were overcome with weariness. We felt helpless and were not sure what to do. We questioned whether it was worth it to try to hold the church staff accountable for what happened to our daughter. At the time our daughter revealed her childhood abuse to us, we had left Church of the Resurrection over a decade before and had long ago given up on this church. In addition to our own painful experiences, we had watched the negative consequences fellow church members encountered when they tried to speak up about how they had been wronged by Rez leaders, and we knew that there was little point in us trying to address this directly with the church. We concluded that our only remaining avenue for demanding answers and accountability was to write about this experience and our ongoing concerns and share these publicly.

When our daughter was a child in the Church of the Resurrection youth group, the church was her first line of defense. Our daughter's youth pastor was likely the first adult to learn of her situation, at which point the church had the power to open a door of healing and recovery for her. Instead, Rez leaders treated our daughter's abuse as consensual sexual activity between children, chose not to inform her parents, and left our daughter to continue suffering in shame and silence for so many years. Our concern is not just regarding what happened to our daughter, but what our daughter's story means for the safety of other children attending Church of the Resurrection now and over the past 2 decades.

Their safety raises several urgent questions:

• Do current Church of the Resurrection leaders support the decision not to inform us when a Rez leader became aware of our daughter's abuse in the early 2000's?
• Do they approve of how this situation was handled by the former youth pastor, including our daughter being privately and intimately questioned and asked to meet with and apologize to her abuser at the tender age of 16?
• Do Church of the Resurrection staff from back then still believe that not informing us was the right thing to do?
• If not, are current Church of the Resurrection leaders seeking to understand how all of this was allowed to happen?
• Is the church looking into which former or current Rez staff and clergy were aware of the youth pastor's response and handling of our daughter's abuse?
• Is Church of the Resurrection prepared to hold all involved leaders accountable for how this was mishandled and for the additional trauma and suffering the mishandling inflicted on our daughter?
• What assurance do parents of children currently at Church of the Resurrection have that they would be informed if their underage child is sexually abused and the church staff is made aware of it?
• Children almost never disclose abusive sexual experiences like Carol's as "abuse", because they do not yet know what sexual abuse is, let alone the concept of consent. Since the current Illinois state laws on mandated reporting do not appear to legally require church leaders to disclose knowledge of sexual involvement with peers to a child's parents, what guarantee do Rez parents have that they will be informed if a church leader becomes aware that their child has engaged sexually with another child, whether or not it seems to leaders to be consensual?
• It is essential that proper training and protocol be in place to ensure that parents are immediately notified and outside professional help is enlisted to evaluate the situation should this ever occur again within the church. What (if any) changes has Church of the Resurrection made that would protect against this happening to another child/family in the future?
• If there has not been intentional training and clear protocol established, then how can Rez parents know that their children are currently safe under the supervision of church staff, youth leaders, and childcare workers?

The fact that our child was left to believe we knew what happened to her and then chose not to discuss it or to get her help to find healing from this horrible situation is devastating to our entire family. We were not given the option of choosing differently. We were denied the ability to remove our child from a dangerous and traumatic situation. We were stripped of the right to seek justice and therapy for our daughter immediately following the discovery of her abuse, because the whole thing was covered up and hidden from us, her parents. The church's decision not to inform us led to many years of additional trauma for our daughter that did not need to happen. This was a failure of massive proportions!

We want to know why a male Rez youth pastor, unqualified for trauma or psychological work, questioned our underage daughter in private about sexual activity between her and an older boy in the youth group.

We want to know why this same Rez leader was allowed to hold a closed-door, private meeting with minors, with no other adults present, and why he forced our daughter to apologize to her abuser, all without our knowledge or consent.

If we had been a part of these events and conversations, the truth of what had occurred could have become clear. Our daughter suffered through all of this alone, with no one to advocate for her.

As Carol's parents, our job was to love, protect, and be present in her healing process. The silence and secrecy of leadership resulted in us being aware of nothing, and Carol in turn interpreted our silence as judgment and shame.

This is devastating.

We want answers.

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top