Menlo Church investigation reveals no sexual misconduct | New
Zero Abuse Project, a non-profit organization specializing in combating child sexual abuse, has found no direct evidence of sexual misconduct following a 10-month investigation involving Menlo Church after allegations emerged. surfaced last year that the then pastor’s son was allowed to continue volunteering with young people. even after confessing feelings of sexual attraction towards minors.
Menlo Church, a Presbyterian Reformed religious community, serves approximately 3,800 registered members on the campuses of Menlo Park, San Mateo, Mountain View, Saratoga and San Jose. It is part of the denomination ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Each week, more than 500 volunteers help care for more than 1,000 children who participate in church activities, according to the Project Zero Abuse report.
Investigators recently reported that they found no direct evidence of sexual misconduct on the part of the pastor’s son, but outlined a number of ways the church could improve its practices to minimize the risk that someone ‘one hurts children through its programs.
The report comes more than a year after Menlo Church’s senior pastor, John Ortberg, resigned in July 2020 amid allegations of poor judgment. Details became public after a whistleblower, Ortberg’s son Danny Lavery, raised concerns with church leaders and then more publicly via Twitter that his brother had been cleared to volunteer for over a year after telling his father he was sexually attracted to minors.
The Zero Abuse Project’s investigation examined potential cases of sexual misconduct by the pastor’s son, known as “Individual A,” by combing over 500,000 pages of documents and tapes and interviewing 104 people about approximately 94 hours of maintenance.
The report, and The Almanac’s previous report, declined to name the pastor’s son as there has so far been no disclosure or other direct evidence of child sexual abuse on his part.
Access the full 117-page survey here.
The investigation was led by Victor Vieth, program manager for education and research, and Shanon May, program manager for victim assistance, at the Zero Abuse Project, according to the report. They had the support of former child abuse prosecutors, victim support specialists and a children’s forensic investigator.
The group also contracted with an organization that responds to sexual abuse in the Jewish community, an expert in digital forensic evidence analysis, a former child abuse detective, a sex offender treatment provider, an expert in Sex Offender Management and a fluent immigration lawyer. Spanish to help interview witnesses from Mexico, as well as an initial review of over 130 documents.
Beyond the investigation of “Individual A,” the report’s authors also looked at how the church can reform various programs and approaches to its ministries to more proactively prevent sexual abuse. children and improve the knowledge of the faith community on the subject.
The issue of child sexual abuse is not specific to individual religious communities, “but to the entire Christian church,” said the report’s authors.
“As Menlo discovered, churches that are not prepared to respond to this problem can set off a chain of events that injures large numbers of people,” the report’s authors said.
“If Menlo wants to reestablish his relationship with the congregation and better protect the children, he must not forget these events but treat them with humility and learn from them,” they added.
One source of previous concern was that an initial investigation into the case by Fred Alvarez of the Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass law firm was too limited.
According to the Project Zero Abuse report, the previous investigation had included a review of church records of the individual’s and eight person’s volunteer activities. A Menlo staff member also interviewed nine other staff members with a script, asking about any reports of inappropriate relationships, touching or contact with students. And while none of those interviews identified concerns about “Individual A,” no one was explicitly asked about him in those interviews either, according to the report.
As a result of that investigation, along with Ortberg’s decision to resign, church leaders formed an “additional investigative advisory committee” to help select a company for further investigation. The committee members were Lisa Carhart, Amy Hsieh, Chris Hsuing, Paul Merrill and Caroline Tuan, according to the Menlo Church website.
This group chose Zero Abuse Project, “largely on the basis of its reputation and experience with this type of investigation,” the committee said in a statement to The Almanac.
“SIAC is grateful to (church leaders) for granting complete autonomy and independence in recommending Zero Abuse as an investigative body and we are pleased with the breadth, depth and level of detail contained. in the final report, ”the committee added.
The church also hosted an online discussion about the report in town hall on October 17.
Among the report’s recommendations were that the church:
• Create more severe restrictions for volunteers who work with children of the same sex. While the church has maintained strict limits on volunteer and staff interactions with children of the opposite sex, contact with young people of the same sex until recently had been strongly supported, according to the report.
Instead of encouraging leaders to become involved in the personal lives of the young people they work with, for example by surprising them by showing up to sports training or driving them, leaders should generally avoid face-to-face encounters. -head and provide for other checks to prevent possible abuse, such as obtaining written approval for one-on-one meetings, discussing appropriate boundaries between mentors and youth, or using church email addresses that are periodically verified by supervisors to make sure there is nothing suspicious.
• Provide personal safety education for parents and caregivers whose children participate in church youth programs, as well as for underage participants.
• Develop a policy for working with a congregation sexually attracted to minors.
• Hire a Child Protection Director and create a Child Protection Standing Committee to support the Director, implement child abuse prevention initiatives and prioritize child protection issues. .
• Create a safer environment for the LGBTQIA + community of Menlo. The report states that “although Menlo describes itself as a welcoming community, it is not a community that asserts itself”.
• Develop one or more community collaborations to address child abuse, such as partnerships with local child protection agencies or specially trained chaplains who can work with health and mental health professionals while managing the denominational aspects of support for abused children.
• Incorporate topics about child abuse and abuse into religious activities, such as offering Bible studies on child abuse, delivering periodic sermons on child abuse, participating in multi-faith efforts to raise awareness of children’s needs or organize a “lamentation service” that invites parishioners to express their grief and sadness to encourage healing.
• Develop a restorative justice process that prioritizes the needs of victims over those of offenders. “In all likelihood, there would be a need for an outside mediator who can help facilitate conversations between those who are injured and those who may have them, perhaps unintentionally, injured,” the report said.
Ultimately, the report asks if, had the church handled the situation differently, the situation involving “Individual A” and the pastor – described by one witness as a “public scandal” – might have had a different outcome. . “Would a better response have created an environment where others struggling with an attraction to minors could have felt safe seeking help, while assuring parishioners and the community that protection? children will never be compromised? ” he asks.
Email Staff Writer Kate Bradshaw at [email protected]