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O.C. Parish's 1-2 Scandal Punch

Apr 30, 2002 | The Los Angeles Times Parishioners at St. Edward Church, already stunned by allegations that their former pastor impregnated a teenage girl and paid for her abortion 20 years ago, received another shock over the weekend when a second priest was removed from the Dana Point parish over accusations of sex abuse.

Father Denis Lyons, who was two months' shy of retirement, was placed on paid administrative leave Friday after accusations were made last week that he had molested a young teenage boy two decades ago.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange forwarded the information to the Costa Mesa police and provided no other information on the case publicly. Lyons, 68, couldn't be reached for comment.

Diocesan officials also disclosed that Lyons had admitted in 1993 to "inappropriate behavior" with two men while serving as pastor of St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa.

Then in 1994, the parents of two brothers complained to the diocese that Lyons had molested their sons, who were 14 and 16 at the time, around 1979.

Both times, church officials said, they sent Lyons for "extensive counseling," including an eight-month stay at an out-of-state treatment center after the second set of allegations.

Lyons didn't qualify under the diocese's new "one strike" policy for removing priestly sex offenders because the allegations involving the two brothers couldn't be proved, a church official said.

"We did review the file" previously, said spokeswoman Maria Schinderle. But because there was not enough evidence that Lyons had engaged in child molestation, "it was felt he was not a risk to minors."

Schinderle said Lyons showed excellent results in psychological evaluations, which contributed to the decision to keep him in ministry. The priest had been at St. Edward since 1996.

Lyons is the fifth priest in the Orange diocese removed from parishes in recent months. Father John Lenihan was ousted as pastor of St. Edward in September after admitting to have "numerous" sexual relationships with women. He had previously admitted to molesting a teenage girl in the 1970s.

In December, another woman, Lori Haigh, accused Lenihan in a lawsuit of impregnating her 20 years ago when she was a teenager and paying for her abortion. The dioceses of Orange and Los Angeles settled the case earlier this month for $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, in San Bernardino, one Roman Catholic priest has resigned and another has been placed on a leave of absence after that diocese recently revealed allegations they had abused children.

Parishioners were told of the allegations and the diocese's response in weekend Masses.

Father Peter Covas, 70, of St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Rancho Cucamonga resigned Friday, also two months before his planned retirement, said Father Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino diocese.

And the San Bernardino bishop, Gerald Barnes, placed Msgr. Peter Luque of St. Edward parish in on indefinite leave. One complaint has been made against each priest, Lincoln said.

The allegations in that diocese surfaced last week after a panel of priests and lay people reviewed about 400 files on priests going back 50 years.

Barnes formed the panel in response to the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church nationwide.

On Thursday, the diocese turned over 22 allegations against 20 priests to San Bernardino police. The first offense is alleged to have occurred in 1957, the most recent in 1995.

Of the 20 priests, four have died, one left the country and 11 are retired or no longer work in the diocese.

The four remaining priests were still in active ministry as of Friday. Two of those are retired, so-called supply priests who fill in at parishes when needed. Lincoln would not name them. The other two are Luque and Covas.

Lincoln declined to address the nature of the allegations against those two priests, though he did say they go back "several years," before both joined their most recent parishes.

"There are children at [the most recent] parishes, and we have had absolutely no report whatsoever of any inappropriate conduct," Lincoln said.

San Bernardino Police Lt. Frank Mankin said most of the alleged offenses were in San Bernardino and Riverside counties but some were in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. And "there were some allegations that were reported to have taken place in Missouri, Indiana and Massachusetts," he added.

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