Two Sisters Allege Abuse by Priest:
Lawsuit: the Women Are Suing the Diocese of San Bernardino, Claiming Molestation Years Ago

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside]
September 20, 2002

San Bernardino — Two sisters are suing the Diocese of San Bernardino and an Inland priest they allege repeatedly molested them more than 10 years ago.

The women accuse the Rev. Saul Ayala of sexual misconduct in 1988 and 1989 when he baby-sat the girls, then ages 7 and 9, at their Victorville home while their mother worked, said their attorney, John Henley.

Ayala, pastor of Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mecca since 1991, was placed on administrative leave in June after being named in an unrelated complaint of sexual harassment, diocese officials said.

Ayala could not be reached for comment Thursday. He is visiting family in Mexico, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the million-member diocese encompassing San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Lincoln declined to comment on the lawsuit filed Wednesday, noting that the court documents do not specifically name the diocese or Ayala.

"Fundamental decency and fairness mandate that we do not comment on the lawsuit where all of the defendants are simply faceless John Does and John Roes," Lincoln said.

The women, now 20 and 22, allege they were molested when they were parishioners of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia, court documents show.

During that time, the priest occasionally performed services at the Hesperia church but was assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Bernardino.

Henley described the priest as having been close to the family for years.

"Their mother reported the incidents back in '88 and '89 to the church in Hesperia. Nothing ever happened," Henley said. "She was kind of shocked that nothing was done about it." Henley said his clients were contacted this summer by San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives investigating past complaints to the diocese of sexual misconduct by a priest.

Diocese officials turned over 22 previously unreported complaints of sexual misconduct to law enforcement authorities in April in the wake of a nationwide sex abuse scandal that has gripped the Roman Catholic Church. Those complaints, some of which were decades old, previously had not been shared with authorities. Sheriff's detectives said Thursday that Ayala remains under investigation.

The lawsuit alleges false imprisonment, infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

The diocese placed Ayala on leave in June after a woman accused the priest of sexual harassment and misconduct involving a minor, diocese officials said.

Lincoln previously said the incident allegedly occurred 20 years ago and did not include physical molestation.


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