Prosecution of Ex-San Bernardino Priest up in the Air

By Alan Schnepf
San Bernardino Sun
September 25, 2002

The District Attorney's Office is debating whether to file sex-abuse charges against the Rev. Saul Ayala, a pastor of a San Bernardino parish in the late 1980s.

Ayala remained Wednesday in Mexico as prosecutors received a case from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department alleging that he abused two young sisters at their Hesperia home in 1988 and 1989.

Ayala, 56, was pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, 1430 W. Fifth St., San Bernardino, from 1986 through 1989. He transferred to Mecca, a desert town south of Coachella near the Salton Sea.

Two women, who were 7 years old and 9 years old when they say they were abused in 1988 and 1989, have sued Ayala and the San Bernardino Diocese. Their lawyer, John Henley of San Bernardino, said Ayala baby-sat them while their mother worked. The sisters now live in San Bernardino.

Deputy District Attorney Kay Neshat said she is unsure when prosecutors will decide whether to file charges.

"I'm waiting for a little bit more information that will play a part in the investigation,' said Neshat, who is handling the case. "I think that there is some continuing investigation, and I have not made a decision.'

Sheriff's investigators said they are looking into allegations against Ayala of sexual harassment and misconduct with a minor this year in Mecca.

The allegations do not involve sexual contact, but he was put on a leave of absence and traveled to Mexico.

The Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, said Ayala was ordained in 1972 and came to the local diocese during the early 1980s.

Ayala was a priest at St. Joseph Catholoc Church in Barstow before coming to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a predominately Latino parish in San Bernardino.

After the sisters' lawsuit was filed Sept. 18, Lincoln said the diocese had been told that Ayala would return from Mexico. As of Wednesday, however, Ayala had not returned.

"We received a fax from Father Ayala stating that on the advice of his doctor, he was canceling his trip back to the United States,' Lincoln said.


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