Four Priests Leave Parishes: Inland: They Were the Only Active Clerics of the 20 in the Diocese Accused of Molesting Children

By Jacquie Paul and Maria Garcia
Press Enterprise [Riverside CA]
April 29, 2002

Four Inland area priests -- including two pastors -- left their parishes this weekend amid accusations that they had molested children, an official with the Diocese of San Bernardino reported Sunday.

The departures of Monsignor Peter Luque, 66, of St. Edward Catholic Church in Corona and the Rev. Peter Covas, 70, of St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Rancho Cucamonga were announced at Masses this weekend. Luque was placed on administrative leave and Covas resigned. Two part-time priests also were placed on administrative leave this weekend, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the diocese.

Neither Luque nor Covas could be reached for comment.

Luque has served 40 years in the diocese and Covas served 44 years, Lincoln said. The other two priests were retired and worked part-time, helping to say Mass. Lincoln declined to identify the retired priests or the parishes they served.

Luque was popular among Latino parishioners at St. Edward, said Ramon Torres, who waited outside the church for the 7 p.m. Spanish-language Mass.

Torres said that last week Luque asked those gathered for a 7:30 a.m. service in Spanish "to pray for those who have been wrongly accused" of sexual misconduct.

"I don't believe that this is true because he is such a good person," Torres said.

Imelda Briseno said her family has known Luque for more than a decade. Her parents have worshipped at St. Edward for more than 30 years.

"I never would have thought that Father Luque would do something like that," said Briseno as she left church. "Him of all people. I could believe this about any other priest. But not him."

The four priests were the only active clerics in a group of 20 serving the diocese who had been accused of molesting children.

Diocese officials announced Friday that they would turn over information on the allegations to San Bernardino police.

Lincoln declined to elaborate on the accusations against the four.

"We wish to emphasize that the accusations against these priests are only allegations," he said.

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Colton native

Luque was a popular priest who was honored in March at a concert at St. Edward to mark the 40th anniversary of his ordination. More than 2,000 attended the Mass in his honor. That celebration mirrored the resounding welcome Luque received when he returned to the parish in 1994. Luque had served at St. Edward previously, from 1964-68.

Born and raised in Colton, Luque graduated from San Bernardino Valley College in 1954. He was inducted into the college's Hall of Fame in 1995.

He served 13 years as vicar for ethnic affairs for the diocese and later served at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Chino. He was hailed by parishioners as caring and witty with an aptitude for understanding the needs of the Hispanic Catholic community.

Luque's second term at St. Edward came on the heels of a sex scandal in the church. The popular Rev. Anthony Garduno left his post in January 1994 after admitting he had had sexual conduct with an adult.

Luque vowed to help mend the parish when he returned.

"There is nothing I can do about what's happened, except help heal," he said.

Lincoln did not know Sunday evening what other parishes Covas had served.

* * *

Diocese praised

Catholics in San Bernardino and Rialto lauded diocese officials for their efforts to have police review child molestation complaints against 20 of its priests.

"It's a good move for the church to pull a blanket from something that has been hidden for so long," said Yvonne Mendez, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in San Bernardino.

But parishioners also said they wished the Catholic Church as a whole had done more early on to expunge errant priests.

"This should have been taken more seriously in the past," said Esperanza Gomez, who has attended St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in Rialto for 27 years. "I think they should have acted faster."

Holy Rosary parishioner Ken Flores called the action to bring complaints to the police "a good start."

"What's happening with these allegations is that a certain amount of trust has been taken away" from priests and lay people working in the church, Flores said. "What our diocese has done has helped re-establish that trust."

Also this weekend, the Deacon Paul Von Ins, who served as pastoral coordinator at St. Catherine of Alexandria church in Riverside, resigned for an unrelated reason.

"This has nothing whatever to do with the sexual molestation of children," Lincoln said.

Lincoln said Von Ins' resignation resulted from wrong information that was included on his application to be pastoral coordinator. Lincoln declined to give specifics.


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