Molestation Conviction of Former Catholic Priest Upheld
Lopez Convicted in March 2005 on 4 Felony Counts

April 4, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- An appeals court panel Friday upheld the conviction of a former Catholic priest who molested two teens while assigned to a Los Angeles church, rejecting a defense claim that errors were made in instructions given to the jury that convicted him, City News Service reported.

Fernando Lopez was convicted in March 2005 of four felony counts of committing a lewd act with a child, one felony count of sexual battery by restraint, two misdemeanor counts of child molestation and one misdemeanor count of sexual battery. The charges involved two boys, aged 14 and 16, and a man of 19 or 20.

Lopez was sentenced in April 2005 to six years and eight months in state prison after saying that he offered his forgiveness to those who had "betrayed" his trust.

But in a 2-1 ruling in April 2006, a panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed his conviction, agreeing with the defense's contention that comments made by a prosecutor during the trial constituted prejudicial misconduct.

The Attorney General's Office appealed to the California Supreme Court, which overturned the appellate court's decision, ruling that the prosecutor's arguments did not constitute misconduct. The high court sent the case back to the 2nd District Court of Appeal to consider the remaining defense claim -- that errors were made in instructions given to the jury.

A three-judge panel ruled Friday that instructions on willfully false testimony and uncharged sexual offenses were properly given to the jury.

Lopez, who is from Colombia, was on temporary assignment at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Los Angeles from his home diocese in Italy at the time of the crimes, which occurred between 2001 and 2004.

In a statement released shortly after Lopez's sentencing, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said it had "promptly reported the allegations against Father Lopez to law enforcement, fully cooperated with the investigation and followed its own policies regarding allegations of sexual abuse by a priest."

Lopez no longer has permission to function as a priest, the Archdiocese said.


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