Former priest accused of sexually abusing minors at Covina, Redondo Beach and Palmdale churches
By Stephanie K. Baer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
October 31, 2017
|Father Chris Cunningham |
Photo by Jennifer Cappuccio
A former priest who served in Southern California and was named in a 2015 child sexual abuse lawsuit allegedly molested at least four additional children at parishes in Palmdale, Redondo Beach and Covina, according to lawsuits recently filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Civil complaints filed in July and October allege former Rev. Chris Cunningham sexually molested boys ages 10 to 15 from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale, St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach and St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina.
The lawsuits, which name the churches and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as defendants, also allege the archdiocese knew of the allegations against Cunningham.
The archdiocese did not investigate, opting instead to transfer the priest to various assignments and destroy the complaints, according to the court filings. None of the plaintiffs is named in the lawsuits.
Robert Flummerfelt of Canon Law Services, which is representing Cunningham, said in an email that the former priest denies the allegations and has “never sexually abused anyone.”
The new lawsuits come after a 2015 case filed by the same attorney, Anthony DeMarco, on behalf of a plaintiff who he said was sexually molested as a 12-year-old boy at St. Louise in Covina from 2001 to 2002.
“We’ve since that time learned of quite a few more victims of his abuse,” DeMarco said Tuesday. “Folks in charge of youth at every parish he was at leading up to St. Louise and at St. Louise were aware of that conduct and nearly all of them reported their suspicions and concerns to their superiors.”
All three complaints describe Cunningham as regularly having underage boys alone with him in his church living quarters, regularly wrestling with them on church grounds and regularly meeting with them without chaperones outside of church.
Cunningham was removed from active ministry in 2006.
The archdiocese said in a statement that Cunningham was reassigned from St. Louise in 2004 “due to management issues not related to misconduct” and that the church “was not aware of any alleged sexual misconduct until 2015,” when the initial lawsuit was filed.
“The archdiocese received allegations of improper boundary violations concerning Fr. Cunningham in August 2005,” the archdiocese said in the statement. “According to archdiocesan policy, the matter was investigated and an announcement concerning the allegations was made at the parish informing the parish community.”
However, in 2013 Archbishop Jose Gomez released a list of priests accused of sexually abusing children that included Cunningham’s name.
The list dated October 2008 was posted to the archdiocese’s website without mention, according to BishopAccountability.org, which discovered the addendum. The group aims to catalog and make available every document related to child molestation in the Catholic Church.
An archdiocese spokesperson said Cunningham was included on the list because of “improper boundary violations” reported in 2005 — not because of any sexual misconduct allegations.
The list, which was described as a “final addendum” to archdiocese’s “Report to the People of God: Clergy Sexual Abuse,” is no longer posted on the archdiocese’s website. But it can still be seen in archived internet pages.
The 2015 case is scheduled to go to trial later in November.