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  Priest Accused of Molestation Will Not Face Criminal Charges
Victorville Attorney Says Lack of Evidence Prevents Filing

By Alan Schnepf
San Bernardino Sun
December 16, 2002

Victorville — Unless new evidence is presented, prosecutors won't be filing criminal charges against a Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting two Hesperia girls in the late 1980s.

Dennis Christy, chief deputy district attorney in the San BernardinoDistrict Attorney's Victorville office, said prosecutors simply don't have the evidence they need to file charges against Saul Ayala. Ayala served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Bernardino in 1988 and 1989.

Two sisters, now 20 and 22, sued Ayala on Sept. 18, alleging he hadmolested them at their home in Hesperia while babysitting them. Ayala sometimes performed services at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia, according to the suit, while his principal parish was in San Bernardino.

The women were 7 and 9 years old at the time of the alleged abuse.They now reside in San Bernardino, according to their lawyer, John Henley. Henley said the priest had become close with the family and looked after the girls regularly at the time of the alleged abuse.

Christy said prosecutors needed "independent evidence thatcorroborates the victims' allegations' to file charges. If additional evidence comes forth, prosecutors could reconsider their decision, Christy said.

The lawsuit filed by the two women followed a different harassmentallegation made in June against Ayala to the Diocese of San Bernardino, according to the Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the diocese. That complaint did not involve molestation but rather alleged inappropriate behavior from the early 1980s.

After that complaint, Ayala was put on leave from the similarly namedOur Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mecca, about 35 miles east of Palm Springs. Ayala was transferred to Mecca in 1991.

Ayala was in Mexico when the lawsuit was filed in September.

"As far as we know, he's still in Mexico with his family,' Lincolnsaid Monday.

Henley previously said his clients were not fraudulent opportuniststaking advantage of the Roman Catholic church's sex abuse crisis. The women did not level any accusations against Ayala until they were approached by law enforcement officers already investigating the priest, Henley said.

Henley said Monday that the decision not to file criminal chargeswould have no effect on his clients' case. The sisters will have a lower burden of proof in the civil case.

A criminal case would require much more evidence and prosecutors wouldhave to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.

"Whether they're making a mistake or not, I don't know,' Henleysaid. "I don't play in that arena and I don't know how they evaluate those [criminal] cases.'

 
 

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