Home Christian News Report on Menlo Church Finds Missteps But No Evidence of Abuse

Report on Menlo Church Finds Missteps But No Evidence of Abuse

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The Rev. John Ortberg preaches at Menlo Church in June 2020. Video screen grab via Menlo Church

Although no evidence of sexual abuse was uncovered at Menlo Church, its leaders weren’t transparent and should improve safety. Those are the key takeaways from a report by Zero Abuse Project, a third-party investigator hired by the San Francisco-area megachurch. Menlo shared a link to the full report on its website and will hold an open house this Sunday, October 17, for discussions related to it.

The church and its longtime former pastor, John Ortberg, had come under fire for not disclosing that a children’s ministry volunteer confessed to being sexually attracted to minors. As ChurchLeaders has reported, that volunteer turned out to be the pastor’s son, Johnny Ortberg. The disclosure came from another of Ortberg’s adult children, Daniel Lavery, who expressed concern that Johnny was still permitted to work with children at Menlo.

Ortberg, also a bestselling author, resigned from Menlo in July 2020. At the time, he expressed “regret” for not using “better judgment.” Though Ortberg had said he was confident Johnny hadn’t acted on his attractions, the pastor admitted not balancing “my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a leader.”

The church currently has a transitional pastor, John Crosby. In a letter to the congregation, he and another leader write, “We mourn the hurt we have caused, and we hope the completion and findings of this investigation are the next steps in a healing journey.”

Menlo Church: What the Report Reveals

Zero Abuse, which interviewed 104 witnesses and reviewed more than 500,000 documents, “did not find any disclosure or other direct evidence the volunteer in question sexually abused a child.” Although the report doesn’t name that person, previous news articles have identified him as Johnny Ortberg.

Faulting Menlo Church’s leadership for secrecy, the report states: “The decision of the Senior Pastor not to disclose to church leaders or others the conversation he had with the volunteer, as well as the decision of the church Elders not to be fully transparent about this situation, caused significant damage to the Menlo community.”

Zero Abuse says the volunteer gave rides to youth group members and was allowed to be alone with them. (Again, it found no evidence of abuse or grooming by the volunteer.) When a laptop went missing, the volunteer expressed concern about his search history. He didn’t accept investigators’ “offer to examine the laptop,” but Zero Abuse “supports a conclusion” that the computer had a “search history related to his attraction to children.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance writer and editor in Denver, has spent her entire 30-year journalism career in Christian publishing. She loves the Word and words, is a binge reader and grammar nut, and is fanatic (as her family can attest) about Jeopardy! and pro football.