Priest Charged in Sex Abuse Case Headed for Trial

By Rachanee Srisavasdi
Orange County Register
June 10, 2010

A retired priest who faces criminal charges accusing him of molesting a young boy at a Costa Mesa church about 18 years ago waived his right to a preliminary hearing on Thursday, a county prosecutor said.

That means that Denis Lyons, 76, of Seal Beach, removed from ministry in 2002 because of sex abuse allegations, acknowledges that sufficient evidence exists for the case proceed to a criminal trial, according to Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown.

Judges usually weigh some evidence during a preliminary hearing, then decide if a case should go to trial. Some defendants, such as Lyons in this case, decide not to undergo such hearings and head straight to trial.

Lyons is accused of molesting a boy between January 1992 and December 1995 at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, prosecutors said. The boy was a second and third grade student, and the molestation allegedly occurred in rectory and sacristy of the adjoining church, they added.

Lyons, who is out on $100,000 bail, is charged with four felony counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than 14, along with a sentencing enhancement of committing substantial sexual conduct.

His case is set for felony arraignment June 21. He faces 14 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Lyons has escaped criminal charges in the past. In 2003, he was charged with molesting another male youth between 1978 and 1981 at St. John the Baptist. Those charges had to be thrown out because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated prosecutions of some older sex crimes.

Lyons' conduct has been costly for the church. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange has paid more than $4 million to settle sex-abuse claims regarding Lyons.

He first admitted to inappropriate behavior with two adults in 1979. The diocese put Lyons in counseling, and then administrative leave in 2002 when he was assigned to St. Edward Church in Dana Point. That year, he was removed from ministry.

In February 2009, the diocese settled the most recent sex-abuse lawsuit against Lyons for an undisclosed amount. A 25-year-old Fountain Valley man, a former student at St. John the Baptist, sued the Diocese and accused Lyons of abusing him at the church.

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