Panish | Shea | Ravipudi Investigating Claims of Sexual Abuse by Former Youth Pastor at Saddleback Church

Posted on February 26, 2024

[Ruven Meulenberg as seen in a booking photo released on May 26, 2017 by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department]

Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP is investigating claims of sexual abuse by a former youth pastor affiliated with the popular Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California who has been criminally charged with sexually abusing at least four teenage boys he met through the youth ministry.

Ruven Meulenberg was arrested in May 2017, accused of molesting twin brothers who attended the church during visits to a local movie theater and while hanging out together in the youth pastor’s car between May 2016 and May 2017. Meulenberg was criminally convicted in 2018, but the conviction was overturned for juror misconduct due to a juror sharing psychiatric testing information with other jurors. Meulenberg is currently waiting retrial.

Subsequently, a third teenage boy came forward and accused Meulenberg of sexually abusing him. The teen also met Meulenberg through Saddleback Church and was molested by the youth pastor when he was taken out to the movies and dinner between August 2016 and September 2017.

Now, a fourth teenage boy has come forward, telling authorities that Meulenberg touched him inappropriately while the youth pastor drove him home for a church event between June 2017 and June 2018.

Investigators believe there may be more victims who have yet to come forward.

Liability for Saddleback Church Sexual Abuse

Tragically, sexual abuse within religious organizations occurs far too often. Between 2019 and 2022, more than 3,000 lawsuits were filed by survivors of childhood sexual abuse against Catholic dioceses in California alone. The Southern Baptist Convention, which is America’s largest Protestant and second-largest Christian denomination, is also facing a wave of lawsuits over sexual abuse scandal. Survivors have filed, and continue to file, lawsuits against other Christian denominations and religious organizations as well.

Children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse committed by members of a religious organization. Perpetrators are often leaders within a religious organization who exploit their position of trust with children and their parents to carry out sexual abuse, often using their power and authority within an organization to silence their victims from reporting the abuse by threatening to harm the victim or the victim’s family. In some religious organizations, sex and sexuality are taboo subjects which contribute to a culture of silence and secrecy around abuse. Although many religious organizations have policies and procedures in place to prevent abuse, they fail to enforce them consistently and effectively. Shockingly, in some cases, religious organizations try to cover up allegations of abuse rather than reporting them to law enforcement.

Religious organizations can be held liable for the sexual abuse of children within their care or by perpetrators under their control. These organizations have a duty to protect children from reasonably foreseeable harm, including sexual abuse. If a religious organization knew or should have known that an individual was a danger to children and failed to act, then it could held liable for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual injuries suffered by the survivors.

Examples of when a religious organization should have known that an individual is a danger to children include:

  • Leaders received reports from children, their parents, or others about the individual committing sexual abuse.
  • Leaders failed to perform background checks on individuals which would have revealed a conviction for sexual abuse.
  • Leaders ignored “red flags” indicative of sexual abuse, such as observing an adult insisting on one-on-one or private meetings with a child, invading the child’s personal space, engaging in unnecessary physical contact with a child, and making suggestive comments to a child.

Far too often, “red flags” are missed or religious leaders suspect that an individual is being inappropriate with a child yet do not take action that could have prevented the sexual abuse from happening or continuing. In California, survivors of sexual abuse have legal recourse against religious organizations for the failure of their leaders to protect them. A sexual abuse attorney can examine the unique facts of a survivor’s case and determine what options are available should the person pursue legal action.

Investigating Saddleback Church Sexual Abuse

Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP extends our condolences to the individuals and their families who have been impacted by the actions of youth pastor Ruven Meulenberg and sincerely hope that justice will be served for all of Meulenberg’s survivors.

Are you or a loved one a survivor of sexual abuse that occurred at Saddleback Church? The pain and trauma of sexual abuse can be overwhelming, but you do not have to face it alone. Our team of dedicated sexual abuse attorneys are here to serve you.

We have spent decades fighting for survivors and have obtained some of the largest verdicts and settlements in California for sexual abuse, including a $135 million jury verdict for two men who were sexually abused as childdren by their teacher while attending school in the Moreno Valley Unified School District and a $13 million jury verdict for a a young girl who was sexually molested while in the care of EōS Fitness’ Kid’s Club.

Contact a member of our team today at 877-800-1700 if you have any questions or would like to discuss a potential claim.

How Can We Help You?

If you have a legal matter you would like to discuss with an attorney from our firm, please call us at (310) 477-1700 or complete and submit the e-mail form below, and we will get back to you.

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