Former Orange County youth pastor charged with molestation of 4 boys

A former Orange County youth pastor who worked at a popular megachurch was charged with allegedly molesting four teenage boys.

Ruven Meulenberg, 39, mentored junior-high-aged children at Saddleback Church, a popular evangelical Christian megachurch in Lake Forest. Meulenberg and his twin brother were also featured on a YouTube channel dedicated to gaming and music production.

In May 2017, Meulenberg was arrested for allegedly engaging in lewd conduct and an inappropriate relationship with two 14-year-old twin boys. The incidents took place between May 2016 and May 2017 while at a movie theater and inside the pastor’s car, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

At the time of the alleged abuse, one of the victims regularly attended the church and was part of its Junior High Ministry program, which is “designed specifically to help 7th-8th graders connect with Jesus, each other and a caring adult,” according to Saddleback Church.

  • Ruven Meulenberg is seen in a booking photo released on May 26, 2017, by the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
    Ruven Meulenberg is seen in a booking photo released on May 26, 2017, by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
  • Congregants arrive at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Retired pastor Rick Warren, who is expected to speak on behalf of Saddleback on Tuesday, June 13, 2023, at the opening of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, has been intensifying a media blitz in what he acknowledges may be a lost cause. He is trying to get the Southern Baptist Convention to reverse its ouster of the California megachurch he founded, Saddleback Church, for having women pastors. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner, File)

In a 2018 trial, prosecutors described some of the sexual abuse saying the boys were sitting with Meulenberg in a darkened movie theater when he prompted one of them to sit on his lap, the Orange County Register reported.

Meulenberg allegedly kissed the boy twice — once on his head, another time on the cheek — before kissing him on the lips, prosecutors said.

Meulenberg tried to get the teen to kiss him, asking him to do so, but the victim told him he didn’t feel comfortable doing that. Afterward, Meulenberg told the boy to switch seats with his brother. He then repeated the same illicit behavior with the other boy, officials said.

When the boys returned home, they reported the sexual abuse to their mother.

Meulenberg was convicted of molestation in 2018 before 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.

A new trial where Meulenberg will face the same charges for his alleged abuse of the twins will be held, but has yet to be scheduled.

While awaiting that trial, a third victim, a 13-year-old boy, came forward saying he met the suspect at church and was invited to the movies and dinner with him between August 2016 and September 2017. On one or more occasions, Meulenberg allegedly molested the boy while hanging out with him privately, court documents said.

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Meulenberg was charged with four felony counts of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14 in that case.

After those charges were filed, a fourth victim told authorities that he had been touched inappropriately by Meulenberg between June 2017 and June 2018 while the pastor drove him home from a church event. He was 14 at the time.

A charge of one felony count of a lewd act upon a child 14 or 15 years old who is at least 10 years younger than the suspect was filed in that case.

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Saddleback Church is one of the largest churches in the U.S., with a weekly attendance of around 28,000, according to the O.C. Register.

Because Meulenberg worked at the church for years and his leadership role provided access to children, investigators believe there could be additional victims.

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

If convicted on all charges, Meulenberg could face up to life in prison, prosecutors said. He was released and remains on GPS monitoring while awaiting trial on both criminal cases.

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