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  Priest's Charges Dropped Court Ruling Ends Molestation Case

By Felisa Cardona
San Bernardino Sun [San Bernardino CA]
Downloaded July 10, 2003

A priest accused of molesting two boys in San Bernardino and Colton about 40 years ago walked out of San Bernardino Superior Court on Wednesday free of criminal charges.

Monsignor Peter Luque, 68, who worked in the Diocese of San Bernardino for more than four decades, had been charged with 12 felony counts related to child sexual abuse.

The charges were dismissed because of last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which said decades-old molestation cases could not be prosecuted.

Luque's case was one of the first of at least 18 in the county that are expected to be dismissed, prosecutors said. About three of those cases are against Catholic priests.

Hundreds of molestation cases in California are being reviewed and already several have been dismissed. Many of those cases involve priests.

Luque's lawyer, Steven Harmon, said his client is "hoping to resume his duties, but that will be up to the church to decide.'

Harmon also said, "He always knew that he was completely innocent of these charges. He is extremely relieved that the case is over with.'

As for Luque's reputation, Harmon said, "His name has now been linked to these charges, which is a shame. He will now not have a chance to prove to the public and everyone else that he was innocent.'

Luque, through his lawyer, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Deputy District Attorney Kurt Rowley said he had the proof to back them up the charges against Luque if the case had gone to trial.

"There is plenty of evidence to support the charges,' he said.

Last year, police began investigating Luque when two men came forward and accused Luque of molesting them in the 1960s when they were teens.

One of the two, now 53, was 13 and 16 when prosecutors say the incidents occurred. The other boy, now 50, was molested between the ages of 14 and 16, Rowley said.

"All I can tell you is that they are disappointed,' Rowley said of the two men. "It's certainly no fun to call victims and tell them that despite having been geared up for a battle to vindicate their victimhood, that it's all over. That's very difficult.'

No civil lawsuit has been filed against Luque or the church in connection with cases reported by the two men.

Rowley asked Superior Court Judge Donna Garza to dismiss the case because of last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Stogner v. California.

Marion Stogner, 72, was accused by his daughters of molesting them 50 years ago. The women reportedly were afraid to report the alleged abuse by their father until they were adults.

Stogner challenged the charges against him, arguing that the government could not disregard statutes of limitations in order to retroactively prosecute crimes.

"I told the court that because of the Stogner decision, we felt duty bound to dismiss the case,' Rowley said of Luque's case.

In court Wednesday, Luque had no reaction to the dismissal.

"I think he may have smiled and that's about it,' Rowley said.

Luque faced a maximum sentence of eight years in state prison. He was charged with oral copulation, lewd acts on a child and sodomy.

In the criminal complaint, one of the men said the priest orally copulated him on several occasions in 1963 and 1966. The man purportedly met Luque while he was a teenage parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in San Bernardino. Luque was an associate pastor there at the time.

The other man told police that he was 14 when he met Luque at San Salvador Catholic Church in Colton in 1967.

Luque received permission from the teen's mother to let him reside indefinitely at the Colton church rectory, police said.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, the man's sister said Luque told her mother that because her brother did not have a father that he should come live with him in the rectory.

"I challenge him to a lie test,' the sister said of Luque.

The sister said Luque convinced her mother that her brother needed a father figure.

"He came and told my mom that my brother needed a dad,' she said. "My mom was from Mexico and she thought giving her son to a priest was the best thing in the world and that he was in the best hands.'

The man told authorities that the abuse started with touching and massages and escalated to oral copulation and sodomy.

Rowley said he doesn't know if Luque remains a threat to the community.

"It's difficult to say,' he said. "This happened years and years ago. We always hope that people change, but we have studies that show in frightening proportions they don't. I don't know what category he falls into. He's been identified in the public eye, and that may make a difference.'

Luque, born and raised in Colton, graduated in 1952 from Colton High School.

He earned an associate of arts degree in journalism in 1954 from San Bernardino Valley College. He received his bachelor's degree in history and philosophy in 1958 from the University of San Diego and a doctorate in theology in 1962 from Immaculate Heart Seminary in San Diego.

He served as vicar for Hispanic affairs for the San Bernardino Diocese, which covers San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In 2001, he was honored as a person of distinction and a Hall of Fame inductee along with prominent community leaders and politicians during San Bernardino Valley College's 75th anniversary celebration.

"His contributions to the community are far too great to even count,' said Harmon. "The number of lives and people that he has helped over the years is great, and he has been a real inspiration to an entire community. He spent literally his whole life giving to his community.'

Harmon added, "We hope the church will again utilize Father Luque's gifts as a kind and giving priest. He's been so much of a help to so many people over the years. I hope they allow him to continue in his service.'

Ordained in 1962, Luque last worked as a pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church in Corona. In March, he announced his resignation because of the molestation investigation.

The diocese placed Luque on paid administrative leave. The Rev. Howard Lincoln, diocesan spokesman, said Luque will remain on administrative leave.

"This dismissal does not change his status within our diocese,' Lincoln said, "and any future assignment will require the permission and approval of Bishop (Gerald) Barnes.'

 
 

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