2020-02-06 20:20:18 UTC
...to work in unsupervised roles as 'a method of treatment'
*John Ortberg, senior pastor at Menlo Church in the Bay Area, was placed on
leave in November 2019
*Ortberg came under fire for his handling of a volunteer who came to him in July
2018 to confide a sexual attraction to children
*Instead of consulting church's elder board, Ortberg kept the matter a secret
and encouraged volunteer to continue working with children
*He allegedly allowed the volunteer to accompany minors on overnight trips as a
method of treatment for sexual obsession with kids
*Ortberg's estranged transgender son, Slate magazine writer Daniel Lavery,
learned of the situation in November and reported his father to the board
The leader of a 4,000-member megachurch in California's Bay Area was placed on
leave after his own son revealed that the influential pastor had allowed a
church volunteer with a sexual attraction to children to continue working and
traveling with minors unsupervised.
Writer Daniel Lavery, the estranged son of Menlo Church senior pastor John
Ortberg, further claimed that not only had his father failed to stop the
volunteer from working with children, he even encouraged the person to accompany
minors on trips as a method of treatment of their sexual obsession.
Ortberg, 62, a married father-of-three, has not delivered a sermon since last
November and is currently said to be undergoing a process of 'restoration' after
consulting with the church's Elder Board, reported The Mercury News.
There have been no reports of criminal behavior involving the unnamed volunteer,
but Ortberg's handling of the situation has come under fire and sparked an
In late January, Beth Seabolt, chair of the Menlo Church elder board, sent an
email to the congregation explaining that in July 2018, a volunteer came to
Ortberg and shared with him 'an unwanted thought pattern of attraction to
minors,' as The Christian Post reported.
That person assured the pastor and prolific Christian author that he or she had
not acted on the sexual desire, and Ortberg 'provided prayers and referrals for
But instead of consulting other church leaders about the situation, Ortberg
allowed the volunteer to carry on working in the community, including with
The matter came to light 18 months later, when the volunteer reached out to
Ortberg's estranged transgender son, Slate magazine columnist Daniel Lavery, and
told him that 'for most of their life, they had experienced obsessive sexual
feelings about young children.'
Lavery said in a statement he released on Twitter on Sunday that the church
volunteer also spoke to him about seeking out unsupervised volunteer roles with
children as a 'method of treatment' for their unhealthy attraction, including
volunteer work that involved overnight travel with children.
The person told Lavery that they had never consulted a therapist about this
treatment plan, but had shared it with Ortberg and his wife, Nancy, in July
'John Ortberg has continually encouraged this person in their pursuit of
unsupervised work with children,' Lavery stated.
The author and magazine writer went on to say that he and his wife Grace, who is
a transgender woman, confronted Ortberg about the volunteer and expressed their
'gravest reservations about the scheme.'
The pastor allegedly responded to his son by likening pedophilia to
homosexuality, stressing the need to keep the entire matter a secret, and
arguing that Lavery and his wife were not in the position to offer an
alternative form of treatment for sexual attraction to children 'because of our
Lavery said when he asked his father whether the volunteer had stopped
accompanying children on overnight trips, the pastor replied, 'I'm not sure.'
On November 18, Lavery said he contacted the volunteer and gave them a list of
therapists specializing in counselling pedophiles. He also encouraged the person
to stop working with children, which he said they did.
Next, Lavery and his wife sent a letter to Orberg urging him to come clean about
the matter to church elders.
'He did not,' Lavety said.
Three days later, Daniel and Grace Lavery reported his father to the leaders of
Menlo Church, resulting in his Ortberg's suspension from pastoral duties the
very next day.
'I have real compassion for anyone trying to treat sexual compulsions with
accountability and oversight,' Lavery wrote. 'But the situation they had created
was risky, unsafe and unsustainable.'
Lavery concluded by stating that this affair has been devastating to him and has
broken 'the trust that once exited between myself and the Ortberg family.'
Seabolt, the elder board chair, wrote in her letter to the congregation that as
soon as the church board learned of the situation, they retained an independent
investigator, who found no misconduct in the parish.
'Nevertheless, the investigation showed John exhibited poor judgment that was
inconsistent with his responsibilities as Senior Pastor,' Seabolt said.
Menlo Church's board has made statements saying the volunteer in question has
not worked at any church functions since the issue was first brought to light.
Officials also stressed that all church volunteers undergo background checks and
are not allowed to be alone with a child.
Following a three-month suspension, Ortberg returned to work. While undergoing
'restoration' and 'seeking to rebuild trust,' the veteran clergyman will only be
working internally with staff and the elder board, not delivering sermons to the
Ortberg did address the community from the pulpit in late January to apologize
for making a decision he 'should not have made' concerning the volunteer, and
which 'lacked transparency, collaboration and wisdom.'
'I am so very sorry,' the embattled pastor continued. 'I am sorry I failed to do
the right thing, and I'm sorry for the weight and burden this has created for
some of you.'