A former youth mentor at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California was convicted by a jury Wednesday of molesting twin teenage boys.
Thirty-three-year-old Ruven (Ruben) Meulenberg was convicted of two counts of lewd acts with a minor younger than 14 and three counts of lewd acts on children 14 or 15 in an Orange county court, according to the City News Service.
Meulenberg, who the church claims as only a volunteer, was accused of committing the molestations between May 2016 and May 2017 against the twin brothers he mentored at Saddleback Church Youth Center. The actions allegedly occurred off church property.
Deputy District Attorney Courtney Thom reportedly described for jurors earlier this month an incident that happened when Meulenberg took the twin brothers to a movie theatre. The youth mentor is said to have encouraged one of the boys to sit on his lap and proceeded to kiss the 14-year-old boy on the on the head, cheek and mouth.
Meulenberg allegedly asked the boy to switch seats with his brother after the boy said that he didn’t feel comfortable kissing Meulenberg. Meulenberg proceed to molest the other boy in a similar fashion.
“This occurred in isolation in the back row of a darkened movie theater,” Thom said. “This is not saying hello or goodbye. This is the defendant manipulating his position of trust and confusing these young boys to see how far he could go.”
On the way home from the theater, Meulenberg had one of the boys sit between his legs in the backseat of a car.
Once the boys got home, they told their mother what had occured. The mother then contacted the church to report the boy’s allegations.
In statement released last May, Saddleback Church explained that a church representative called the police on May 24, 2017 to report the allegations. Meulenberg was arrested the next day.
Thom reportedly told the jury that the boy’s mother was shocked that a man she “entrusted” to her sons to would do such a thing. The prosecutor explained that one of the brothers placed a “covert call” to Meulenberg with investigators listening in.
During that call, Meulenberg is said to have apologized for his actions and vowed he would never commit them again.
However, Meulenberg’s attorney, Brian Neal Gurwitz, told the jury that his client “is factually innocent of all charges” and that he has “zero attraction to boys.”
The initial Saddleback statement explained that the congregation was “shocked and grieved” for the allegations and labeled Meulenberg as a student ministry volunteer.
“To be considered for volunteering with kids or students, we require fingerprinting, professional background checks, and personal interviews,” the statement reads. “We also use services that report any illegal activity to us immediately. In this case, the accused volunteer had no record of arrest or criminal charges. Also, our church requires volunteers who work with students or children to complete an annual training regarding appropriate conduct. Our system of safeguards has safely served over 40,000 students and children for 38 years.”
Some question, though, whether Meulenberg was actually on staff at the nondenominational evangelical megachurch. Critics have pointed to a 2014 public relations piece produced by A. Larry Ross Communications that described Meulenberg and his twin brother, Efraim, as “being on staff” at the church. The public relations piece focused on the brothers’ work in creating a Bible-themed video game that was praised at one point by Warren.
Meulenberg, his brother, sister and parents emigrated from Holland. Critics also noted that Meulenberg’s mother, Marieke, lists that she is a Project Manager at Saddleback on her LinkedIn page.
Gurwitz reportedly said during the trial that Meulenberg and his brother emigrated to work at Saddleback and “have mentored countless kids over the years.”
The church assured last year that the information in its May 2017 statement regarding Meulenberg being a volunteer is accurate.
Correction: Aug. 24, 2018:
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ruven (Ruben) Meulenberg was accused of molesting boys both on and off church property. The alleged actions did not take place on church property, according to a spokesperson for the church.
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