Youth Minister Accused of Abusing a Fourth Victim 


Recently, the Orange County (CA) District Attorney’s Office announced that a fourth victim of an accused Saddleback Church youth minister has come forward to allege child sexual abuse at the south Orange County megachurch.

Ruven Meulenberg, a local resident who worked as a pastor with teens is now facing two trials for child sexual abuse. A guilty verdict in Meulenberg’s first trial was overturned due to juror misconduct and is scheduled to be re-tried. If convicted in both cases, Meulenberg faces up to 100 years in prison.

Saddleback Church, founded by Pastor Rick Warren and his wife in 1980, has grown from a small Bible study to one of the largest churches in the United States. Last year, the Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s largest Baptist denomination, expelled Saddleback because the church allows women to assume pastorship roles. The convention has been plagued with child sexual abuse allegations over the past ten years, culminating in a 2019 investigation and attempts at reform.

According to the Orange County District Attorney, Meulenberg used his position as a youth minister to take boys to movie theaters and rides in his car, where he would molest them.

How much did Saddleback Church officials know about the danger? Right now, we don’t know. The scope of the criminal investigation and trial will focus on Meulenberg’s direct actions with the alleged victims. Saddleback’s role in the abuse and their action, or inaction, on behalf of survivors will most likely be exposed if the victims, in this case, decide to pursue civil action.

Why is civil action important? If Meulenberg was allowed to abuse innocent boys because Saddleback officials turned a blind eye, then we can expect more and more predators to do the same at the church. In fact, according to former FBI counter-intelligence agent Joe Navarro, predators are attracted to careers in the clergy because they give the predator what he wants the most: credibility, access to children, forgiveness, and a weak organizational structure that allows the abuser to prey with impunity. 

The best way to fix the broken systems that allow abusers to flourish and hold churches and other non-profits to the highest standards is to make them accountable to survivors and the law. Predators need to be behind bars, and the organizations that helped them must be held accountable to survivors, our communities, and children right now.