John Ortberg, pastor of a Menlo Park, California, Presbyterian megachurch and father of writer Daniel M. Lavery, has been on personal leave since November 2019, when Lavery says he informed the church that Ortberg had continued to let a volunteer work with minors in full knowledge that the volunteer had admitted feeling sexually attracted to children.
In a statement posted to Twitter on February 2, Lavery says that the volunteer in question confessed to him that “for most of their life, they had experienced obsessive sexual feelings about young children.” During the confession, the person also explained that volunteer work, which included overnight travel with children, was part of a plan to overcome these feelings, a plan Lavery says his father encouraged. When Daniel and his wife “expressed the gravest reservations” about the person working alongside children in a treatment plan not approved by a therapist, Lavery says his father responded that “pedophilia was like homosexuality” and “the most important thing was maintaining secrecy around this affair.” Lavery also says his father told him he couldn’t understand the “alternative treatment” because both he and his wife are trans.
On November 21, Lavery reported the conversation to church elders, and on November 22, Ortberg was placed on leave while an independent investigation was conducted. On January 21, Menlo Church sent its 4,000 members an email disclosing that the investigation had found no evidence any children had been harmed and Ortberg would return to the church in a reduced role limiting his contact with the public: “[John Ortberg] deeply apologizes for his action and decisions, and is committed to the safety and integrity of our community and to ensuring that such a situation does not arise again,” the email read.
Lavery says that he encouraged the individual who confessed compulsive sexual thoughts about children to give up all volunteer positions that involved work with minors and seek treatment with a provided list of therapists specializing in helping pedophiles who do not want to hurt children. The person voluntarily resigned, and Lavery says he “has no firsthand knowledge of any criminal activity.”
Last weekend, Ortberg addressed the congregation for the first time, saying he “failed to do the right thing” and that his “lack of transparency… placed a burden on many people.”