LA Archdiocese Settles Suit Alleging Former Redondo Beach Priest Sexually Abused a Covina Boy in 2001 and 2002
City News Service
January 23, 2019
|Parishoner Kay Baker, 81, of Covina, left, hugs Father Chris Cunningham, of Covina, at his final farewell Wednesday (March 10, 2004) at St. Louise de Marillac Catholic Church in Covina. Cunningham has been removed as pastor for the church cy the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. (Photo by Jennifer Cappuccio/Freelancer/SVCITY)|
A young man who alleges he was sexually abused by a pastor at the Catholic church he attended in Covina settled his lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, attorneys told a judge Tuesday.
The plaintiff, identified only as John CJ Doe, alleged child sexual abuse and negligence. The lawyers informed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig that the case was resolved, but no terms were divulged. Kendig heard pretrial motions last week prior to the settlement.
The suit was filed in May 2015 and also named as defendants St. Louise de Marillac Church and the Rev. Chris Cunningham. The plaintiff alleged that Cunningham abused him in 2001 and 2002 when Doe was 12 and 13 years old.
Cunningham served at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach from 1998 to 2001 and is accused of abuse there.
The archdiocese issued a statement regarding the Covina settlement.
“The archdiocese did not know of any allegation of sexual misconduct by Father Cunningham until 2015, when the initial claim was filed, and was not aware of the additional claims until recently advised by plaintiffs’ counsel,” the statement read. “Father Cunningham has been inactive and out of ministry since 2005 after the archdiocese received allegations of improper boundary violations concerning Father Cunningham in August 2005.”
The matter was investigated according to archdiocese policy and an announcement concerning the allegations was made at Father Cunningham’s parish informing the parish community, the archdiocese added.
Cunningham took a leave of absence, has not been in ministry since then and continues to deny all the allegations that have been asserted in the complaints filed, according to the archdiocese.
Cunningham was 42 when he was reassigned to Assumption Catholic Church in Ventura in 2004, according to published reports at the time. Supporters of Cunningham sent 8,000 letters to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles pleading not to oust their pastor, the reports stated. They protested at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles and held meetings to come up with a plan to save Cunningham.
However, the St. Louise de Marillac parishioners were not given an explanation from the archdiocese as to why the pastor was transferred, the lawsuit stated.
“Parishioners were not told his removal had to do with an accusation of sexual abuse of a child,” according to the complaint. “Rather, the (archdiocese), through (former) Cardinal Roger Mahony, publicly cited Cunningham’s emotional instability, his harshness in exercising authority and his interfering with a church investigation.”
Mahony “publicly acknowledged his awareness that Cunningham had convinced others to keep silent regarding Cunningham’s misdeeds,” according to the lawsuit.
Instead of announcing the reason for his departure, the archdiocese allowed Cunningham “to inflame the parish community to support him,” the suit alleged.
Cunningham was removed from active ministry within the archdiocese in 2006, but no reason was given for the action until 2013, when he was included on a list of priests with credible accusations against them of sexual abuse, the suit stated.
“The notice was buried within thousands of pages of personnel files of child-molesting priests that had been ordered to be produced by the courts,” the suit stated.
The archdiocese did not reveal why Cunningham was removed from the Covina parish out of fear that his alleged victims would come forward and that criminal and civil cases would be initiated, the suit stated.
“Instead, defendants have been content to have victims of Father Cunningham suffer in silence believing that they are alone,” the suit stated.
The archdiocese knew that prior complaints were made about Cunningham before he ended his alleged abuse of the plaintiff and that the priest regularly had underage boys with him in his church living quarters, the suit stated. He also went with boys to movies, to Starbucks and on other outings without having a chaperone present, the suit alleged.
Litigation including John CJ Doe’s case has alleged abuse by Cunningham of another child at St. Louise de Marillac and of other children at Catholic churches in Palmdale and Redondo Beach.