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Menlo Church launches new probe after dismissed children's volunteer revealed as pastor's son

Menlo Church launches new probe after dismissed children's volunteer revealed as pastor's son

Pastor John Ortberg of Menlo Church preaches in June 2020. | YouTube/Menlo Church

Elders at Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, have launched a “supplemental independent investigation” into concerns raised about the circumstances under which a volunteer, revealed as the pastor’s son, was allowed to work with children despite confessing to having an attraction to minors.

“While many of you know that the Board took immediate action upon learning of these concerns, we understand our initial investigation could have gone further and included specific expertise in child safety and sex abuse issues, and it could have been informed by conversations with a wider group of people,” the elders said in a statement to the 4,000-member congregation on Saturday. “Based on the feedback we’ve received, we are initiating a supplemental independent investigation into concerns raised about the volunteer.”

Pastor John Ortberg was asked to go on personal leave from the church on Nov. 22, 2019, while an investigation of concerns raised by a third party about a then unidentified church volunteer was conducted.

Earlier this month, Daniel Lavery, a trans-identified woman who is Ortberg's estranged daughter, revealed in an extensive thread on Twitter that the volunteer is her brother — John Ortberg III.

“The volunteer was my brother, John Ortberg III. When we last spoke, he admitted to seeking out unsupervised contact with children (including overnight travel) for well over a decade,” Lavery wrote. “I believe his unique relationship to my father, John Ortberg Jr., is the sole reason why John Jr. went out of his way to protect his secret and facilitate his continued contact with children.”

In January, without revealing Pastor Ortberg’s relationship to the volunteer, the elders said their leader exhibited “poor judgment” but no harm had come to any minor in the Menlo Church community based on the findings of an investigation.

Beth Seabolt, chair of the congregation’s elder board said Pastor Ortberg “failed to take the required steps to prevent the person from volunteering with minors at the Menlo Park campus and did not consult anyone else at Menlo Church about the situation.”

She noted that as soon as the church was made aware of the concern about the volunteer, they informed the church and brought in an independent investigator but did not find any misconduct in the Menlo Church community. The elders reiterated this earlier this month.

Pastor Ortberg, who returned to the pulpit in March, apologized for his "shortcomings" in a letter to the church on July 6.

"When my son first spoke to me, I should have immediately asked our church Elders for counsel and I should have exerted my full influence to ensure that he did not volunteer again at any event with kids and youth," Ortberg wrote.

"I am deeply sorry about my poor judgement and acknowledge that I betrayed my sacred trust as Senior Pastor. I have sought forgiveness from God, from our church Elders, our staff, and from our congregation." 

With the latest discussions surrounding the revelation about Ortberg’s relationship to the volunteer, the church elders — who chose not to name the volunteer — acknowledged that they needed to have been more transparent, and explained that they were conducting the supplemental investigation to bridge that breach.

“After carefully listening to our community these last several days about the investigation into a former church volunteer, we want to first acknowledge the Board’s ownership in what we have done to contribute to the pain and distrust many of you are feeling right now. Fundamentally, we did not provide the transparency that our community deserves and as a result have eroded the trust some of you place in our leadership,” the elders said.

A new committee, “comprised of representatives from elders, staff, parents and volunteers,” will also be created by the elder board to “provide transparent oversight of the new investigation and ensure all impacted perspectives are represented,” the church leaders said.

“We also have directed staff to conduct a full audit of policies, practices and training related to child and youth safety, to be led by an independent outside organization with expertise in this area and are committed to conducting regular audits on an ongoing basis. Our staff and volunteers run incredible ministries for children and youth. Our community deserves to have full confidence in their work and that the systems safeguarding our children and volunteers are best-in-class.”

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