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  Area Sisters Sue Priest;
Pair Claim They Were Molested by Him in Late '80s

By Alan Schnepf
San Bernardino Sun [San Bernardino]
September 18, 2002

Two sisters claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that a priest who served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Bernardino molested them at their home in Hesperia in the late 1980s.

Saul Ayala, a priest, is being investigated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in connection with the molestation allegation, law enforcement sources confirmed Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed in San Bernardino Superior Court, contends that a priest, who is not identified in the suit, molested the two girls in 1988 and 1989 when they were 7 and 9 years old. The suit also refers to a second unnamed party.

The sisters' San Bernardino attorney, John A. Henley, said the priest was very close to the alleged victims' family. The priest sometimes performed services at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia, according to the suit, while his principal parish was in San Bernardino.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said the diocese had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it. He did confirm that Ayala was working in the San Bernardino parrish in 1988 and 1989.

Henley said the case has more credibility than other similar lawsuits because the women did not come forward with their allegations until law enforcement approached them.

"All of a sudden, when ... [law enforcement] started investigating, they contacted the girls or their mother,' Henley said. "It wasn't that they were getting on a bandwagon to sue somebody.'

In June, the Desert Sun in Palm Springs reported that Ayala had been put on administrative leave from the similarly named Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mecca after allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment were made against him.

Lincoln said Wednesday that the diocese was awaiting the results of the law enforcement investigation in the Mecca case before deciding on Ayala's status. He said Ayala is expected to fly back from Mexico, where he currently is.

Lincoln said that the Mecca allegations were not of a physical nature but were forwarded to law enforcement. The lawsuit filed Wednesday, however, alleges that a priest molested and sexually assaulted the girls.

 
 

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