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  Laguna Woods Priest Accused of Abuse
Father Richard Delahunty of St. Nicholas Church Is Put on Leave. He Denies Charges

By Chantal Lamers and John McDonald
Orange County Register
January 8, 2004

Bishop Tod Brown took to the pulpit of St. Nicholas Church last week to tell the congregation that he had relieved their pastor, who is being investigated for sexually molesting a boy 22 years ago.

"I have been notified of a civil lawsuit filed against the diocese alleging sexual abuse of a minor by your pastor," Father Richard Delahunty, Brown told the parishioners at two regularly scheduled services. "Father Delahunty categorically denies this charge."

Brown said placing Delahunty on administrative leave "does not in any way imply guilt," but rather, "It simply begins our procedures for due process when charges like these are made."

Details of the lawsuit were unavailable Thursday, but diocese officials said the bishop had been informed of the court case Monday. Brown met with Delahunty on Tuesday and told him he was being placed on administrative leave pending an inquiry by the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Oversight and Review Board.

Delahunty was assigned to St. Nicholas in July, after serving as pastor of St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Yorba Linda for more than five years.

The accusation made against the priest dates back to his service as a priest at St. Barbara's Church in Santa Ana in 1981.

The lawsuit involving Delahunty was one of an estimated 800 filed against Catholic dioceses statewide in recent weeks.

Lawyers filed the numerous lawsuits because a law that waived the statute of limitation for civil sexual molestation cases expired Thursday.

Cases are filed against the dioceses because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that California couldn't use the law to go after criminal charges against the priests.

"Delahunty. I've heard his name for many months," Costa Mesa lawyer John Manly said. He represents clients in numerous lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Orange alleging sexual molestation. One of his cases resulted in a settlement that required the diocese to remove priests accused of sexual molestation from contact with the public.

Manly is not involved with the Delahunty lawsuit but said he believes that the priest should have been removed from his parish when his name was first linked to a sexual molestation allegation. He said the diocese had agreed to remove priests when there is an allegation, not only when there is a lawsuit.

A priest can be returned to parish service only when he is cleared of wrongdoing.

Delahunty will remain a priest and receive his pay, but he will not be permitted to act in a public setting pending the inquiry, Brown said.

"There were a lot of people surprised that he was being removed for something that happened so long ago," said Michael Fletcher, a deacon at St. Nicholas.

He said Delahunty was still getting acquainted with the parish.

"He always seems very spiritual, a very godly man," Fletcher said.

Retired deacon Ray Havert said he was shocked to hear the news when he attended Mass and heard the bishop's statement.

"He wasn't here that long, and I didn't get to know him well. When I worked with him, I always enjoyed his company."

Delahunty could not be reached for comment.

 
 

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