A Catholic priest who worked in the Diocese of San Bernardino for more than 40 years was charged Tuesday with sexually assaulting two teenage boys in San Bernardino and Colton in the 1960s.
Monsignor Peter H. Luque, 68, in a letter mailed Tuesday, was ordered by the District Attorney’s Office to appear for arraignment on May 22 in San Bernardino Superior Court, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Kochis said.
Luque faces 12 felony counts, including oral copulation, lewd act on a child and sodomy, stemming from allegations he sexually assaulted the boys from June 1963 to February 1969.
The alleged molestation started when the boys were 13 and 14 and continued for years, according to a 12-page complaint filed by the District Attorney’s Office.
The priest was not arrested because he is not believed to be a flight risk, Kochis said.
“He has been a member of the clergy in the Inland Empire for 40 years,’ Kochis said. “He was raised in this area. He’s a lifelong resident and has remained in the area the entire time the investigation has been pending.’
Kochis would not say whether the alleged sexual acts occurred in San Bernardino and Colton churches or rectories.
Luque could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
Ordained in 1962, Luque resigned as pastor of St. Edward Church in Corona on Feb. 26. He announced his resignation in March in a letter to St. Edward parishioners.
He has been on administrative leave since that time.
“Unfortunately, the investigation being conducted by law enforcement is not being brought to a speedy conclusion,’ Luque wrote. “Our parishioners need to heal and progress toward God’s kingdom without the uncertainty of my return to you.’
On Tuesday, officials at St. Edward referred questions to the diocese.
The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member diocese that covers San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said Luque will remain on paid leave until his case has been adjudicated.
“We are saddened by these charges against a priest with so many years of outstanding service,’ Lincoln said. “We have trust in our legal system that these charges will be resolved with justice.
“Our hearts go out to the many people who are affected by these allegations, most especially to all the victims in general who have suffered child abuse.’
Because the charges stem from allegations dating to the 1960s, Kochis said Luque, if convicted, will be sentenced according to laws in effect at the time of the alleged sexual assaults.
He said a conviction on all counts and a sentence to be served consecutively could result in punishment ranging from probation to eight years in prison.
Under current laws, Luque, if convicted, could have faced life in prison, Kochis said.
The investigations of Luque was launched last year after the diocese turned over to San Bernardino police the names of 20 priests accused of sexually assaulting children in San Bernardino and Riverside counties between 1957 and 1995.
The investigations were left to law enforcement agencies in both counties.
Diocesan officials released the list to police after a sexual-abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese rocked the Catholic Church and put dioceses across the nation under the microscope.
In Luque’s case, a 53-year-old man alleges Luque orally copulated him on several occasions in San Bernardino between June 1 and Aug. 31, 1963, and again between March 1 and April 20, 1966, according to the district attorney’s complaint.
San Bernardino police Lt. Frank Mankin said the alleged victim was 13 when he met Luque at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church on Fifth Street in San Bernardino when Luque served there as an associate pastor.
It was not disclosed where the alleged sexual acts occurred.
The other alleged victim was 14 when he met Luque at San Salvador Catholic Church in Colton, where Luque was then assigned, said Colton police Detective Julie Reed.
Because of problems the boy had at home, Luque received permission from the boy’s mother to let him reside indefinitely in the church rectory until the problems could be resolved, Reed said.
“Father Luque kind of took him under his wing and allowed him to stay in the parish until he fixed his problems at home,’ Reed said.
The alleged abuse started out with touching and massages, then escalated to oral copulation and sodomy, Reed said. Alcohol was allegedly left in the rectory for the boy to drink, she said.
Reed said the alleged victim reported the abuse this past summer after media reports of sexual abuse allegations against Catholic priests filled newspapers and the airwaves.
She said the boy was possibly ashamed or embarrassed to report it earlier.
“I think he was just in total awe of Father Luque,’ Reed said. “There seemed to be some strong affections for this man. I think he was going through a bit of an identity crises. (Luque) was a priest, and he felt very comfortable with him.’
The alleged sexual abuse stopped after rumors spread through the church, Reed said.
“Father Luque told the kid he would have to leave the rectory,’ she said. “Rumors were there was something going on between them.’