Parents and Caregivers Seminar

On Monday, March 8, 2021, national child abuse prevention and education expert, Alison Feigh, joined Menlo Church for a seminar when she discuss the dynamics of child sexual abuse; she gave tips and tools for prevention; and she explored how to talk with children and youth about personal safety. The transcript and video are linked below.

Alison Feigh, MS, is the Director of Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, a program of Zero Abuse Project, which is running the supplemental investigation into the activities of the volunteer who served in the past in youth ministries at the Menlo Park campus.

To learn more about Zero Abuse, scroll to the bottom of the page.

What does the Zero Abuse Supplemental Investigation report say?

The report consists of 112 pages and 7 sections. It includes 10 findings from the investigation and 96 recommendations (including subparts). That said, most significantly, the investigation by Zero Abuse Project concluded that they found no disclosure or other direct evidence of child sexual abuse by the volunteer in question. We encourage you to read the full report for yourself and to see the recommendations and conclusions.
Read the Report

Why did we need a Supplemental Investigation?

In 2018, one of former Senior Pastor John Ortberg’s adult children told him that he had an unwanted attraction to children. The son had served as a volunteer and part-time employee in various Menlo activities involving youth since 2008 and was serving as a volunteer at the time. John Ortberg did not report this to the authorities, nor did he inform any other staff or any of the Elders. Then, in November 2019, John Ortberg’s son told his brother, Daniel Lavery, of this attraction to children. Six days later, Mr. Lavery sent an e-mail to Menlo Church leaders informing them of this conversation. The following day, John Ortberg was placed on leave and an investigation was conducted. The investigation did not find anyone with knowledge of sexual misconduct by John Ortberg’s son.At the conclusion of the investigation, John Ortberg was asked to complete a restoration program that included meetings with staff and elders, visiting our campuses, and completing mandated reporting training. Upon completing the restoration program, John Ortberg returned to a newly created position of teaching pastor and was relieved of managerial duties, excluding an administrative assistant. Additionally, when John Ortberg began his restoration period, the congregation was informed about a conversation between John Ortberg and a volunteer and that John Ortberg did not inform leadership about, nor did he remove the person from his volunteer role. The congregation was not told that the volunteer was John Ortberg’s son because the investigation did not disclose that harm had been done to a child.Although many supported the return of John Ortberg, some congregants expressed deep concerns about his conduct and the limited scope of the investigation. Mr. Lavery had similar concerns and, in June 2020, publicly named his brother as the volunteer. This revelation intensified the concerns within the congregation and led to John Ortberg’s resignation. On December 28, 2020, Menlo contracted with Zero Abuse Project to conduct a supplemental investigation.

Are you releasing the full report?

Yes, we are committed to transparency and honesty, as well as honoring God, our congregation, and all the parties involved. To that end, the full report may be found on our website. Zero Abuse has also posted it on their website.
Read the Report

Was the supplementary investigation truly independent?

Yes. The Board of Elders, also known as Session, launched the supplemental investigation with the goal of having an investigation that was thorough, independent, and transparent. The goal was to fully learn from this process, lean into Zero Abuse’s expertise, and improve any processes to align with best practices. In July 2020, Session announced they would initiate a supplemental independent investigation and form a Supplemental Investigation Advisory Committee (SIAC). The SIAC was formed to research and recommend a new, independent fact-finding firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to conduct a supplemental investigation and provide transparent oversight of the investigation. The SIAC, which was composed of representatives that included one staff member, parents, a resting Elder, and volunteers, was formed in August 2020 and was completely independent. In September, the committee began researching firms to lead the supplemental investigation. In November 2020, outside of any influence or direction from Session, SIAC recommended Zero Abuse as the investigative firm. This was approved by Session and a contract was signed December of 2020. SIAC members communicated regularly with Zero Abuse and updated Session on the investigation’s progress. Church staff and Session cooperated with all requests from Zero Abuse and assisted with compiling lists, sharing documents, reaching out broadly and repeatedly to encourage people to be interviewed. No one on SIAC, Session, or staff knew the report’s contents until Zero Abuse concluded their independent investigation. Once the report was complete, a small group of people were given 96 hours to review it, solely for the purpose of checking for factual errors. Session is committed to full transparency and is sharing the full report and summaries publicly on our website. Please see the timeline for more details.
View The Timeline

What was the scope of the investigation?

In December 2020, Zero Abuse Project entered into a contract with Menlo Church to assess whether a former volunteer, referred to in the report as “Individual A,” engaged in any acts of sexual misconduct with any minors, as well as to assess Menlo’s child protection policies. Specifically, Zero Abuse agreed to do the following: 1) Assess whether there was any evidence or allegations that Individual A engaged in any act of sexual misconduct against a minor(s) while he was serving as a part-time employee of and/or volunteer at Menlo. 2) Assess the circumstances surrounding Individual A’s disclosure to his dad, as well as past and current leadership's "response to Individual A’s disclosure." 3) Assess child protection policies that were in place during Individual A’s time as a volunteer or part-time employee at Menlo. 4) And write a Final Report that outlines the Assessment Findings and proposes policy and other recommendations based upon the factual findings. You can find details in the report on pages 1 and 2.

Did the investigation involve speaking with parents and children who interacted with the volunteer? Was the volunteer interviewed?

The investigation evaluated the volunteer's activities at Menlo Church, including the annual mission trip to Mexicali. The investigation included interviews with over 100 people, including students and former students; parents of students and former students; fellow volunteers and former volunteers; Mexicali leaders; current and former staff; Menlo Church leadership, including Elders; and key stakeholders. The names of those interviewed were not shared with Menlo Church. But, based on what is in the report, the volunteer responded to questions verbally and in writing to Zero Abuse.

Did the Supplemental Investigation assess the thoroughness of the first investigation?

The supplemental investigation reported the name of the organization that conducted the first investigation, as well as what the first investigation covered, including what documents were reviewed and how many people were interviewed. The report does not offer an evaluation of whether the investigation was thorough. For more details, see section 3, which starts on page 13 of the report.
Read the Report

Did the Investigation uncover another unrelated incident of sexual misconduct?

Zero Abuse did not uncover another incident of sexual misconduct. Instead, while the investigation was underway, the church learned a staff member had allegedly solicited nude photos from a teenage boy while serving on staff at another church. Menlo Church leadership immediately reached out to Zero Abuse, who then advised and assisted Menlo in reporting the case to the authorities and also advised Menlo to terminate the employment of this individual, which the church did.

What will you do to strengthen systems to protect the children and youth in the church’s care and to train our staff and volunteers?

While we have had a robust vetting process for our volunteers in place, in the last two years, we have added steps to improve the safety of our children: 1) We have scheduled a mandatory two-day staff training with Zero Abuse employees, which will delve into recognizing and preventing abuse. This training will take place in Spring 2022 and will complement the Parents and Caregivers Seminar we had in March 2021. 2) We now run background checks on our volunteers every two years instead of every three. 3) We now require every member of our staff complete mandated reporter training every other year instead of every three years. 4) In both our Kids and Students ministries, we implemented a more efficient system to help our staff vet and onboard new volunteers. In addition to measures already taken to improve the safety of kids and students in our care, as leaders, we are committed to reviewing and evaluating all of the report's recommendations. We plan to take the next 60 days to review the recommendations and develop a plan for next steps. Some of the recommendations, like updating the staff handbook, we will be able to do right away. Others, we expect may take six to 12 months or more to fully integrate.

How quickly will we react to the recommendations?

We plan to take the next 60 days to review the recommendations and develop a plan for next steps. Some of the recommendations, like updating the staff handbook, we will be able to do right away. Others, we expect may take six to 12 months or more to fully integrate.

Will we implement all of the recommendations?

We are already making progress on a lot of the recommendations. There are others we want to spend time thinking through how to implement them in a way that is well thought out, long-term, sustainable, and serves our community.

Is the volunteer still serving in the church?

No. Within two days of learning that the volunteer had an attraction to children, the Menlo Board of Elders (also known as the Session) took steps to keep him from resuming his position as a volunteer.

Is the volunteer still serving with children outside of the church?

We have no information on the volunteer’s activities once he stopped volunteering at Menlo Church.

Did the Ortbergs cooperate with the investigation? Were they interviewed?

The names of those interviewed were not shared with Menlo Church. Based on what is in the report, members of the Ortberg and Lavery families were interviewed. Please read the report for details.
Read the Report

What is the Supplemental Investigation Advisory Committee (SIAC)?

This committee was created and authorized to independently research and recommend a new, fact-finding firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse investigations to conduct a supplemental investigation into any potentially questionable activities related to a volunteer’s involvement at Menlo Church and in Church-sponsored activities. The firm will assess the child protection policies that were and are in place and provide recommendations. In August 2020, the Elder Board (Session) received volunteer recommendations from Session members and staff leadership and approved the formation of the five-member advisory committee.

Why did the church form the SIAC?

The SIAC was formed to research and recommend a new, independent fact-finding firm with expertise in child safety and sexual abuse to conduct a supplemental investigation into the volunteer’s involvement in Menlo Church and Church-sponsored activities. The first investigation in 2019 examined Pastor John Ortberg and also the volunteer’s involvement in Menlo Church and church-sponsored activities without mentioning the volunteer’s name. The name was kept confidential because no allegations of misconduct had been (or have been) made. Once the volunteer’s name was publicly identified in Summer 2020, this opened the path for a more robust investigation that would engage child safety investigators to speak directly with the students who had contact with the volunteer. Menlo Church chose to conduct this supplemental investigation to reassure families and to restore any loss of confidence in the safety of Menlo’s youth programs. Once formed, the SIAC operated independently of Session. The SIAC and Session met once at the formation of the committee and then when a recommendation was brought forth to Session.

How were members of the SIAC chosen?

In August 2020, the Elder Board (Session) received recommendations from Session members and staff leadership and approved the formation of the five-member SIAC. The committee was designed to be composed of at least one former elder, one Menlo Church staff member, one volunteer, one parent of a child in Menlo’s youth programs, and a representative from our ECO denomination for additional oversight.

Who are members of the Supplemental Investigation Advisory Committee?

The five members are Lisa Carhart (Menlo campus student parent, former elder, and Menlo staff member), Chris Hsiung (San Mateo campus safety team lead and local law enforcement executive), Amy Hsieh (Menlo campus student parent and former elder), Caroline Tuan (San Mateo campus Menlo Kids volunteer), and Reverend Paul Merrill (ECO pastor).

When did the SIAC start to meet and what have they accomplished so far?

The five members met weekly starting in September to vet multiple law firms and investigative firms. They reviewed the first investigation, interviewed potential law firms, made recommendations on the scope of the supplemental investigation, and brought forth the final recommendation to Session. The SIAC will remain in a liaison role with Zero Abuse Project, the new investigative firm, for the duration of the investigation.

How was Session involved?

During the initial formation of the SIAC, a Session representative met with the SIAC and provided a briefing on the initial investigation and encouraged the SIAC to independently determine its scope, recommend an investigative firm, and suggestions for next steps. From that point forward, the SIAC met and acted completely independently from Session. SIAC recommended Zero Abuse Project as the investigative firm at the November 10, 2020 Session meeting and Session approved the recommendation of Zero Abuse Project at the December 1, 2020 Session meeting. The contract with The Zero Abuse Project was signed by Session in December.

How was the supplemental investigation firm chosen? What was the process?

Several investigative firms were interviewed and vetted by the SIAC. Some were law firms while others specialized in child abuse investigations. The SIAC interviewed three finalists and concluded that Zero Abuse Project was best suited for conducting the supplemental investigation.

How long was the first investigation and why is Menlo conducting a supplemental one?

The first investigation was conducted in November and December of 2019. This investigation examined Pastor John Ortberg and also the volunteer’s involvement in Menlo Church and church-sponsored activities without mentioning the volunteer’s name. The name was kept confidential because no allegations of misconduct had been (or have been) made. Once the volunteer’s name was publicly identified in Summer 2020, this opened the path for a more robust investigation that would engage child safety investigators to speak directly with the students who had contact with the volunteer. Menlo Church chose to conduct this supplemental investigation to reassure families and to restore any loss of confidence in the safety of Menlo’s youth programs.

Why is Menlo doing this at all when no allegations have arisen?

Once the volunteer’s name was publicly identified, this opened the path for a more robust investigation that would engage child safety investigators to speak directly with the students who had contact with the volunteer. Menlo Church chose to conduct this supplemental investigation to reassure families and to restore any loss of confidence in the safety of Menlo’s youth programs. To this date there remain no allegations of misconduct on the part of the volunteer.

What can we expect from the second investigation team?

Zero Abuse Project will assess whether there is any evidence or allegations that a former volunteer/employee engaged in any act of sexual misconduct against a minor(s) while he was serving as a part-time employee of and/or volunteer at Menlo Church. To this end, Zero Abuse will assess the circumstances surrounding the volunteer/employee’s disclosure to Menlo - including Menlo’s current or past leadership - that this individual had sexual feelings toward minors, as well as the church’s response to this disclosure. Additionally, Zero Abuse will assess the child protection policies that were in place during this individual’s time as a volunteer or part-time employee at Menlo, and make recommendations related to the establishment of child protection policies moving forward.

What will be the investigation process?

Zero Abuse will review the prior investigation and build upon it. This includes conducting interviews with staff, leadership, and the families who intersected with the individual in question, as well as a review of documents, including e-mails or other documents relevant to this investigation and child protection policies. This will be done for the purpose of assessing possible risks and determining possible next steps to limit future risks. If, at any point, Zero Abuse discovers evidence of a crime, this information will be shared immediately with appropriate law enforcement agencies. As part of community awareness and growth, Zero Abuse will conduct a workshop for parents and caregivers on speaking with youth about abuse. The workshop will be recorded and provided to Menlo to accommodate those who cannot participate live. Once Zero Abuse’s assessment is complete, Zero Abuse will draft a written report that outlines our findings and proposes policy and other recommendations based upon these findings.

How can we be sure that the findings from the investigation are accurate?

An investigation is only as good as the information it receives. Accordingly, we encourage everyone with information pertinent to this case to speak with the Zero Abuse team and to be as forthcoming as possible.
Email the Zero Abuse Team

Questions on Timing

Why has it taken so long? How long will this new investigation take? What happens next?
Please See Our Timeline

Menlo Church
1111 University Drive Menlo Park, CA 94025
650-323-8600

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