Saddleback Church Youth Mentor Arrested for 'Lewd Acts' With Teen Boys; Church 'Shocked and Grieved'
A volunteer youth mentor with Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, has been arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with at least two teenage boys. The church stated that it is "shocked and grieved" at the development.
Saddleback released a statement on Friday, describing its "shock and grief" at the news that 32-year-old Ruven Meulenberg, who volunteers as a junior high youth mentor at the church, was was arrested Thursday on suspicion of lewd and lascivious acts with a child.
As CBS Los Angeles explained, Meulenberg was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff's Department following a report from a parent, and is being held on a $100,000 bail in Orange County Jail.
Sheriff's deputies said that the youth mentor is suspected of being involved in an "inappropriate relationship" with a 14-year-old boy. Authorities are investigating an alleged relationship with another 14-year-old boy as well.
NBC Los Angeles reported that the teens claimed to have "engaged in inappropriate conduct'' with Meulenberg over the past year while he served as a volunteer at the church, with the "lewd and inappropriate conduct" allegedly occurring on the church campus.
Meulenberg has apparently been volunteering at the church for six years, and alongside his twin brother has written religious children's books.
Saddleback's said in a statement:
"We ask you to do two things: First, please pray for the Saddleback families who are involved in this sad matter."
It continued: "Second, please pray for the investigators as they determine the facts. As followers of Jesus, we always want the whole truth to come out because Jesus taught us that lies enslave us, but the truth sets us free."
The megachurch insisted that for decades it has had "extremely high requirements and strict procedures in place" for anyone who volunteers in the student and children ministries, including background checks and fingerprinting.
CBS 2 spoke with some Saddleback congregants who were "not happy" with the news.
"It's not acceptable," said Lennard Cowans.
"It's not something that, not anyone would condone not only here at Saddleback," he added, "but any person wouldn't condone any kind of interaction like that with a youth."
Others, such as Laolu Oladapo, offered that the church "handled the situation effectively."
Some congregants had not received Saddleback's email statement when they heard the news.
"It's the first I heard of it. So, it's pretty shocking," said Sandi Caminiti.
Saddlback is frequently featured near the top of lists ranking the largest megachurches in the U.S., such as Newsmax's list in 2015. According to Pastor Warren, the church has continued growing.
The pastor said in April that the church drew more than double its attendance from its first two Easter services compared to last year.
"After just two services (Thursday and Friday evenings) where I taught 'He Did It All For You- Part 1,' 296 new people have given their lives to Jesus for the first time," Warren said at the time, revealing that the total attendance for the first two services alone was 14,400.
"Be sure of this: The Bible says that in Heaven these members will be rewarded for eternity by Christ for caring enough to invite unbelievers," he added.