Former Priest Pleads Guilty to Molesting Boy

By Vik Jolly ônd Larry Welborn
Orange County Register
March 23, 2012

SANTA ANA – A retired priest Friday pleaded guilty to charges of molesting a 7- to 9-year-old boy at a Costa Mesa church nearly two decades ago.

Denis Lyons, 78, of Seal Beach, admitted to four felony counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than 14, pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Denis Lyons, a former priest accused of molesting two boys who were students at a Roman Catholic school from 1992 to 1995 changed his plea to guilty this morning in Orange County Superior Court.

He answered "Yes, your honor" to most of Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno's questions, who will sentence him May 25. Lyons could have been sentenced to 14 years in state prison if convicted at trial, but has agreed to serve one year in county jail and five years probation. He must also complete lifetime sex offender registration.

Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown said her office took into account the victim's wishes to resolve the case without having to go through the ordeal of a publicized trial in reaching an agreement with Lyons.

The defendant, who has been out on bail, molested the boy between January 1992 and December 1995 at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Costa Mesa, prosecutors say. The boy was a second- and third-grade student and the molestation occurred in the rectory and sacristy of the adjoining church, prosecutors said.

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

The Diocese of Orange has paid more than $4 million to settle sex-abuse lawsuits involving Lyons. In February 2009, the diocese settled the most recent sex-abuse lawsuit against Lyons for an undisclosed amount. A former student at St. John the Baptist sued the diocese and accused Lyons of abusing him at the church.

Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of SNAP or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said after the hearing "It's about time that Denis Lyons sees the inside of a jail cell. You can tell how traumatized his victims were by their continued reluctance to come to court."

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