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Reporting the Truth.
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Former Saddleback Youth Volunteer Charged with Molesting a Fourth Teenage Boy

By Liz Lykins
Ruven Meulenberg youth pastor
Ruven Meulenberg, 39, a former youth volunteer at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has been charged with molesting a fourth teenage boy, (Photo: Orange County Sheriff's Department)

A former youth volunteer at the megachurch Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has been charged with molesting a fourth teenage boy, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Wednesday in a statement.

Former Saddleback youth volunteer Ruven Meulenberg, 39, was initially arrested in 2017 for molesting twin brothers between the ages of 13 and 14 years old, Spitzer said. Though convicted of those charges, his conviction was overturned due to juror misconduct.

Now, while Meulenberg is awaiting trial, two more victims have come forward with allegations of abuse.

Meulenberg previously mentored junior-high-aged children at Saddleback’s headquarters. Saddleback Church, founded in 1980 by author Rick Warren, is one of the largest churches in the U.S. with a weekly attendance of 28,000, according to AP News. The church has 15 locations in California and five internationally, according to the church’s website.

Outside of the church, Meulenberg also ran a gaming and music production YouTube channel with his brother, Spitzer said.

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saddleback church
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, June 12, 2022. (RNS photo by Bob Smietana)

The first two alleged victims, identified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, attended the youth ministry program at Saddleback Church. The incidents took place between May 2016 and May 2017 during visits to a local movie theater and inside the youth volunteer’s car, the district attorney said.

In a 2018 trial of Meulenberg, Deputy District Attorney Courtney Thom said that Meulenberg allegedly told one of the boys to sit on his lap while they were in a darkened movie theatre, City News Service reported. Meulenberg then reportedly kissed the boy on his head, cheek, and lips, Thom said.

Meulenberg attempted to get the teen to kiss him, but the victim told the former youth volunteer he didn’t feel comfortable doing that, according to the prosecutor. Following this, Meulenberg allegedly told the boy to switch seats with his brother and repeated the same illicit behavior with the other boy, Thom continued.

When the brothers returned home, they reported the sexual abuse to their mother, according to KTLA 5. She told the news station that her sons showed tremendous bravery and courage by telling her about the abuse.

The mother then said she told the church about what occurred. A former statement from the district attorney’s office states that a church representative reported the abuse within days of it occurring.

saddleback rick warren
Pastor Rick Warren preaches via video at Saddleback Church, June 12, 2022, in Lake Forest, California. (RNS photo by Bob Smietana)

Meulenberg was then convicted of molestation in 2018, the district attorney said. However, the conviction was overturned when a judge ruled one of the jurors had engaged in misconduct by sharing information with other jurors about the psychiatric testing of subjects in criminal trials.

Meulenberg is currently awaiting retrial for this case, Spitzer said. 

Since then, a third victim, identified as John Doe 3, came forward with new allegations, the district attorney said.  

Doe 3 alleges Meulenberg invited the then 13-year-old boy to the movies and dinner between August 2016 and September 2017. On one or more occasions, Meulenberg reportedly molested the boy while hanging out with him privately, Spitzer said. 

Meulenberg
Former Saddleback youth volunteer Ruven Meulenberg. (Photo: social media)

After those charges were filed, Spitzer said a fourth victim — John Doe 4 — informed local law enforcement that he also had been “touched inappropriately” by the former youth volunteer. The assault occurred between June 2017 and June 2018, while the youth volunteer drove the boy home from a church event, according to the district attorney. The boy was 14 at the time.

The former youth volunteer faces five felony counts of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14 and three counts of a lewd act on a child 14-15 years old and at least 10 years younger than the defendant, the district attorney reported.

If convicted on all charges, Meulenberg could face up to life in prison, Spitzer said. He is currently released and remains on GPS monitoring while awaiting trial on the cases.

“Strong mentors are meant to help our children navigate the difficulties of growing up and realize their full potential,” Spitzer said in the statement. “Instead of providing the spiritual guidance he pretended to provide, this youth volunteer seized on the vulnerabilities of these children for his own sick sexual gratification.”

He continued, “He has not only forever shaken their belief in anyone in a position of trust and authority; he has irreparably damaged their faith and the faith of countless other parishioners who believed their children were safe with him and youth pastors (sic) everywhere.” 

Updated: The statement from the district attorney’s office identified Meulenberg as a “youth pastor,” which was how we identified him in our original story. However, Saddleback has confirmed that Meulenberg was only a volunteer and never served on staff. We have updated the story accordingly.

Freelance journalist Liz Lykins writes for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.

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5 Responses

  1. when will righteusness rise within the church> Paul said in 1 corithians 5 that there are things you are doing that the world is not doing, in other words the world was living more Holy then the church, this man should be arrested and never again be in ministry, we as the congregation must demand higher standard of our leaders

  2. And two more today.

    A Baptist school in Texas and a United Methodist church school in Oklahoma.

    When do we admit the church has a serious problem?

  3. I remember hearing the news when it originally broke in 2017. It devastated the community of children’s ministry leaders across the country because Ruben was a prominent figure in the space. But one of the most sinister and eye opening pieces to this story was how Saddleback Church, where Ruben was on staff in the children’s ministry department, refused to name him as a staff member and instead only referred to him as a volunteer. I remember meeting with Saddleback’s children’s pastor and executive team member (Steve Adams) at Saddleback’s children’s ministry conference many years ago. Steve had just brought Ruben on staff and he referred to Ruben as the “Peyton Manning” of Saddleback’s children’s ministry – yet there was no mention of Ruben’s employment in Saddleback’s ministry at the time of his arrest.

  4. And now I know what happened to the kickstarter project he and his brother launched to make an animated bible video game. Wondered why I never heard anymore about it and could not find info when I looked to see about their progress.

  5. I know a couple who were part of the Saddleback community; the husband led 1 of their adult groups. All I’ll say is that I won’t be surprised to learn Warren & his church were/are part of the MK-Ultra / child sex trafficking group that’s part of the satanic cabal. Yes, the devil’s minions infiltrated the church, seminaries & every other area of our society. God is removing the tares & revealing the truth. Praise God, their time is almost up.

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