Suit Accuses Ousted Priest of '78 Abuse
In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Lori Capobianco Haigh alleges that Father John Lenihan, the former pastor of St. Edward Church, began a sexual relationship with her at St. Norbert Catholic Church in Orange in 1978, when she was 13 and he was 32.
The lawsuit alleges that Lenihan arranged for Capobianco Haigh to meet with another priest who had been removed from a church for sexual misconduct. When she did so, the second priest also molested her, the lawsuit states. It also says Lenihan told Capobianco Haigh that the Diocese condoned the sexual relationships.
Besides Lenihan, the lawsuit names as defendants the Diocese of Orange, which oversees the churches Lenihan worked for; and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which oversees the Diocese of Orange.
Capobianco Haigh alleges that church officials in Orange and Los Angeles knew about Lenihan's abuse of minors but did nothing. Her lawsuit includes a copy of a letter to the dioceses in 1978 from a man who wrote that Lenihan had molested his stepdaughter, Mary Grant, then 15. The letter demanded that church officials intervene.
"The Diocese covered up the molestations and abuses by Lenihan after getting the letter," the lawsuit states.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Orange would not comment Friday on the lawsuit, saying the church had not received a copy of it.
Capobianco Haigh's attorney, Katherine K. Freberg, said her client, now 37, spent years recovering from emotional wounds that were reopened when she learned from news reports in San Francisco, where she now lives, that Lenihan had disclosed details of previous affairs.
Lenihan was the subject of two September columns in the Los Angeles Times about the difficulties of priestly celibacy. In the columns, in which Lopez referred to Lenihan as "Father X," the priest spoke of a sexual relationship with a teenager named Mary and about later relationships with other women.
References in the columns to a legal settlement with the teenager caught the attention of church officials, who were aware of a February 1991 agreement with Grant. Church officials contacted Lenihan, who acknowledged he was Father X.
The lawsuit also states that Capobianco Haigh tried in 1982, at age 18, to tell a priest at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange, where her parents were members, that she was molested by Lenihan. That priest, according to the complaint, responded with sexual overtures. When Capobianco Haigh told another priest at Holy Family of Lenihan's abuse, the lawsuit states, the priest accused her of lying.
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