BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
A popular pastor at Menlo Church in downtown Menlo Park was put on leave for two months because he allowed a volunteer who had unwanted thoughts about children to continue volunteering with the youth in the church.
The congregant told pastor John Ortberg in July 2018 that he had “an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to minors,” according to a letter from church Elder Board Chair Beth Seabolt to church members.
The congregant claims to have not acted on this attraction attraction, and was seeking Ortberg’s support, according to the letter. Ortberg prayed with the church member and provided referrals for counseling, the letter says.
“However, John 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,” the letter says.
According to the letter, people at the church are mandated reporters, meaning they must report any suspicion of misconduct, particularly sexual, to police.
No one else at the church other than Ortberg and his wife knew about the congregant’s thoughts about children until the church member reached out on Nov. 15 to Ortberg’s son, Daniel Lavery, who is also a columnist for Slate.
In a conversation with Lavery, the congregant acknowledged having “obsessive sexual feelings about young children,” and sought out unsupervised volunteer positions with children “as a method of treating this obsession,” said a post by Lavery on Twitter.
Lavery consulted his father, and found out that Ortberg had “encouraged this person in their pursuit of unsupervised work with children,” according to the Twitter post. Further, Ortberg was not sure if the congregant has stopped volunteering for overnight trips with the children, according to Lavery.
Man is referred to therapists
After learning this, Lavery gave the congregant names of therapists specializing in work with pedophiles, and encouraged the congregant to end all volunteer work with children, which happened.
On Nov. 21, Lavery sent an email to the Menlo Church, and the next day, Ortberg went on “personal leave.”
The leave was suggested by the church’s Elder Board, according to Seabolt’s letter.
In a statement issued by the church, Ortberg said that he “fully understands the board’s concerns regarding his handling of this situation.”
In the statement, he continues on to say that he is “saddened by the potential risk he now realized he brought on the Menlo community and wholly agrees that he did not handle this matter consistent with his responsibilities to Menlo Church and the board’s expectations of him.”
Ortberg was on leave from Nov. 22 to Jan. 24, according to Seabolt’s letter.
Both Seabolt and Lavery’s statements say that they are not aware of any criminal activities by the church member. Seabolt said that if any reports of abuse or misconduct surface, the church is prepared to report everything to police.
“We have significant protective measures already in place, including the two adult policy and background checks for all regular volunteers,” Seabolt’s letter says.
According to another statement from the church, volunteers must have attended the church for six months or completed a five-week training course, submit to a background check, submit references and other typical hiring practices.
Menlo Church’s congregation in 2014 voted to leave the Presbyterian Church and aligned with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians denomination.
Aside from its campus on Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park, Menlo Church also has locations in Mountain View, San Mateo, South San Francisco, Saratoga and San Jose.