Diocese Restores Retired Priest
Church: The Rev. Covas Had Been Removed Two Years Ago after Sex Abuse Allegations Surfaced

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside]
April 21, 2004

The Rev. Peter Covas, a longtime Inland priest accused in pending lawsuits of molesting two boys nearly 30 years ago, has been reinstated as a retired priest in good standing by Bishop Gerald Barnes, leader of the two-county Diocese of San Bernardino.

In April 2002, Barnes removed Covas as pastor at St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Rancho Cucamonga after decades-old allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against the priest. The accusations by two men sparked a yearlong criminal investigation that ended in April 2003, when San Bernardino County prosecutors announced they would not file charges against Covas, now 73.

"Bishop Barnes advises the faithful of the diocese that all civil and ecclesiastical inquiries have been concluded in the case involving Reverend Peter Covas," Monsignor Gerard M. Lopez, the diocese's vicar general, wrote in an April 16 memo issued to priests and pastoral officials in the million-member diocese.

"Recently, Father Covas was notified that he is now free to exercise his priestly ministry in the diocese."

Covas, who retired in 2002, could not be located for comment Tuesday. His four decades in the region included stints as principal of Notre Dame Catholic High School in Riverside and as the longtime pastor of St. Catherine Catholic Church, the city's largest parish.

Anthony DeMarco, attorney for the two men suing the diocese over accusations that Covas molested them in the 1970s, expressed amazement Tuesday when told Covas was reinstated. DeMarco said his clients were not interviewed by the diocese.

"This is perplexing that they would clear someone without doing an investigation," DeMarco said by phone. "I would seriously question the level of investigation they performed to arrive at that conclusion."

Diocese spokesman the Rev. Howard Lincoln said Tuesday, without supplying details, that Barnes' decision came after a "thorough review and investigation."

DeMarco said the lawsuits were filed in December. In one, a man claims he was 14 years old when Covas began sexually abusing him in 1975, and that it lasted until 1980. In the other, the accuser claims he was about 15 years old in 1970 when Covas began abusing him, DeMarco said.

Prosecutors who reviewed the men's allegations last year cited concerns about the accusers' credibility.

Authorities have said that one accuser had complained to the diocese that he and Covas had an intimate relationship, but he later recanted his allegations, prosecutors said. That man, who has since renewed his accusations, led authorities to the second man, who is in prison serving a robbery sentence, prosecutors said at the time.

The names of Covas' accusers have not been released.

Lincoln was unsure if Covas, who spent several weeks in an Upland hospital this year battling a lung disorder, had returned to ministry. As a retired priest, Covas will be allowed to perform weddings, funerals and baptisms, and to help at Mass, Lincoln said.

Covas was pastor at St. Peter and St. Paul for 12 years. He spent 21 years at St. Catherine's and served seven years as principal at Notre Dame High. Named in 1981 as the diocese's financial director, Covas resigned from the job two years later after he co-signed a promissory note lending $ 225,000 in diocesan money to a man convicted of fraud.


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