Local Priest Faces Claims of Abuse

By Joseph Serna
Daily Pilot
February 11, 2009

Former father at St. John the Baptist School stands accused of four lewd acts with teenager who is now 24 years old.

A Costa Mesa man’s lawsuit accusing a Roman Catholic priest of molesting him in the mid-1990s is his conduit to hold the larger Orange County archdiocese accountable for hiding the abuse, the man’s attorney said Wednesday.

Jonathan Kirrer, 24, is suing Father Denis Lyons, a former priest at St. John the Baptist School in Costa Mesa, for allegedly sexually abusing him at least four times in 1994 and 1995 while a student at the school.

Because Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange leaders did not put Lyons on administrative leave while they investigated claims by other alleged victims, they knowingly permitted the abuse to continue, Kirrer claims in his civil suit.

“If they had immediately acted on the allegations and restricted his access to children, Jonathan wouldn’t have been abused at least three times,” said Michael Morrison, Kirrer’s attorney. “They didn’t do anything.”

In 1994 and 1995, Lyons targeted Kirrer for molestation, the lawsuit alleges. The first time, Lyons allegedly summoned Kirrer, then in second grade, into the rectory and forced the boy to touch him. When Kirrer was in the third grade, he claims Lyons pulled him into the bathroom and again forced the boy to touch him sexually.

Later that year, Lyons allegedly told the boy during another sexual encounter, “You are going to do this and you are not going to tell anyone!”

Lyons’ attorney was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Lyons was removed from the ministry in 2002 but has not been defrocked. Morrison said the diocese’s handling of the allegations against Lyons throughout the years illustrates a systematic attempt to hide sexual predators from the public.

The diocese has paid out more than $4 million to settle civil suits against the man. In 1995, when two boys came forward and told church officials Lyons had abused them 20 years ago, they sent him to an eight-month residential treatment program.

Upon his return, he moved to a new parish in Anaheim, Morrison said.

The district attorney filed charges against Lyons in 2003, claiming he had sexually abused children under 14.

However, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that year regarding statute of limitations on such cases forced prosecutors to dismiss their case.

“Obviously, these are very important cases and we have prosecuted judges, priests, ministers, teachers. It really doesn’t matter what kind of occupation you have,” said Susan Schroeder, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office. “We’re going to prosecute cases no matter what their position in society may be.”

Costa Mesa police are working with prosecutors investigating the latest claims against Lyons. Criminal charges have not been filed, but it’s only a matter of time, Morrison said.

“Jonathan is committed to the very end to see justice served,” Morrison said.

Kirrer’s attorneys said they did not have a specific amount of damages they were seeking, but ultimately wanted the diocese held accountable.

Reporter JOSEPH SERNA may be reached at (714) 966-4619 or at


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