First published on Twitter:
Dear Beth, Christy, Matt, Sally, and Vicki,
It is with great grief that I write this. I am sending this to the staff of Menlo Church whose roles entail responsibility for children - please ensure that it is forwarded to anyone else with relevant authority.
Last Friday, my younger brother John Ortberg III (Johnny), who is thirty years old, disclosed to me that, for as long as he can remember, he has been sexually obsessed with children - especially, he says, boys between the age of 8 and 13. Among other disclosures, he shared that he feels sad when children graduate and leave his company, that for him the sexual instinct is intertwined with an instinct to nurture, and that close personal contact with children is what gives his life meaning. He has felt this way, he says, for twenty-five years.
My brother told me that he disclosed this to our parents - Nancy and John Ortberg - nearly eighteen months ago, in July 2018. I confirmed this with my father over the phone last Friday. When Johnny told them about his sexual obsession with children, they decided to allow him to continue to work with children - indeed, they encouraged his work as a coach for the [REDACTED] team at [REDACTED]. They did not encourage him to seek therapeutic care. In short, my parents, in collaboration with my sister, worked to expose dozens, perhaps hundreds of children, to very serious emotional and physical risk, while simultaneously ensuring that my brother was never left alone with [REDACTED].
When I told my father that Johnny must seek therapy, and stop working with children at once, my father became enraged and defensive - he told me that I did not have the authority to make such an observation because my brother and I are no longer especially close, that Johnny was “heroic,” and implied that working with children was so important to Johnny that he would commit suicide if someone “took this away from him.” I have never heard my father speak in so panicked or furious a tone as when I questioned the wisdom of his decision to allow his son, a self-avowed pedophile, to work with children without any kind of supervision, therapy, or spiritual counsel. I also asked if he had clarified with Johnny at any point over the last 17 months whether he still spends the night with his [REDACTED] when they travel as I know they have in the past. “I don’t think so,” my father said. I asked him whether he knew that for certain: “I don’t think so,” he repeated.
My father also justified my brother’s refusal to seek counseling thusly: “He’s never done anything, so there’s nothing to report, but he’s afraid…he might get an eccentric therapist, or a weird one, who might decide to report anyways.”
Johnny claimed that he has not hurt anyone. I love my brother. I think it is possible that he has not physically attacked any children at Menlo, or anywhere else. Nonetheless, his work with children has been entirely unaccountable and unsupervised, and the decision to place him in such contexts was an intolerable gamble that my family should never have taken, and which nobody else should be forced to endorse. The very fact that he has sought out this unaccountable contact is itself a sign of his impaired judgment, a fact my family evidently recognized when they decided not to allow him to be alone with [REDACTED]. And of course, Johnny may have no sense whatsoever of the emotional harm that he may have caused.
The disturbingly poor judgment displayed by Johnny, and by the rest of my family, would have been sufficient justification for my writing to you. But two incidents give me further pause, both of which are known to my parents. The first concerns the circumstances of his first disclosing this condition to my parents. The reason he gave them at the time was that he had lost his laptop and was afraid that it might be found by police. Why would he have had such a fear unless the laptop contained incriminating materials? The second concerns Johnny’s participation in the Menlo [REDACTED] trip in 2009. My brother sought out a close relationship with an eight-year-old boy in [REDACTED] and has returned to Mexico almost every year since to stay with [REDACTED]. In 2017, Johnny posted this image on his Instagram account:
I believe my brother has volunteered with various youth groups at Menlo many times since my family moved to California in 2003. If he has done so since July 2018, then he has done so with my father’s explicit encouragement. I therefore implore you to conduct whatever inquiries are necessary to determine whether he has been responsible for harming children in the sixteen years since my father accepted his position at Menlo. I have already informed [REDACTED], and at my urging, my brother has stopped working there and is now seeking therapy. I note, too, that my parents at first attempted to accompany him to therapy. My father has a PhD in psychology - he knows how much use therapy will be to an adult patient flanked on either side by his parents.
My father has not reported Johnny’s condition to anyone at Menlo, but rather has continued to encourage Johnny to work in a variety of positions with young people. I take this choice to be entirely at odds with his responsibilities as a mandated reporter, as well as his stated vocation as a pastor.
I am horrified to think of the damage that my family may have done to the Menlo community over the sixteen years of my father’s ministry. I would not share this information with you unless I believed there to be a credible basis for a serious and thorough investigation of every aspect of my brother’s work with children, and the cover-up my parents have conducted. In the most charitable reading possible, my parents have acted with unconscionable disregard for their responsibilities as leaders, ministers, and parents. There are far more disturbing possibilities even than that.
I realize that members of my family rightly possess the right to discretion while the Church conducts such investigation as you deem necessary. I ask, then, that you let me know what steps you intend to take at your earliest opportunity. I am not in any contact with any members of my family, and do not intend to resume contact.
I know this news will break your hearts, as it has broken mine. As much as you have loved my parents, please also hold them to account.