Diocese Actions Affect 2 Priests
Allegations: Peter Luque Will No Longer Minister; Two Women Who Accused Saul Ayala Will Be Paid
By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside CA]
April 23, 2004
Monsignor Peter Luque, a prominent Inland priest removed from his Corona church two years ago amid decades-old accusations that he molested two boys, has agreed not to return to ministry, San Bernardino Diocese officials said Thursday.
Bishop Gerald Barnes, who leads the diocese encompassing Riverside and San Bernardino counties, also ordered Luque not to present himself as a priest in public, not to wear a priestly collar and not to participate in the celebration of public events as a priest, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, the diocese's spokesman.
"Bishop Barnes and Monsignor Luque have agreed he will not return to ministry," Lincoln said, adding that Luque, 70, is now preparing for his retirement.
Diocesan officials also revealed Thursday that they have agreed to pay $ 30,000 to settle an unrelated lawsuit filed by two sisters who accused the Rev. Saul Ayala, a former priest in Mecca and San Bernardino, of molesting them in the 1980s. Ayala plans to work in Mexico and will not be returning to the Inland diocese, Lincoln said. Neither Ayala nor the diocese admitted wrongdoing in the settlement, Lincoln said.
Luque - a Colton native whose family's name graces a library and a community center in the town and who spent more than four decades ministering to Catholics in Colton, San Bernardino and Corona - could not be located for comment Thursday.
A popular pastor at St. Edward Catholic Church in Corona, the diocese's largest parish, Luque was placed on administrative leave two years ago after abuse accusations surfaced against him. He later resigned as pastor.
Last year, two men sued the Diocese of San Bernardino, accusing Luque of molesting them when they were boys. The case is pending. Their attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.
One of the men accuses Luque of molesting him at a San Bernardino Catholic church and other unspecified locations from 1963 to 1965, according to court documents filed in San Diego County Superior Court. The other man accuses Luque of sexually abusing him in 1967 at a Colton church and elsewhere, the lawsuit states.
The civil lawsuit also names the Diocese of San Diego, which managed the Inland parishes until the Diocese of San Bernardino was created in 1978.
Luque's accusers are the same two men whose allegations led San Bernardino prosecutors to file molestation charges against him last year.
Luque denied the criminal charges, which were later dismissed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law that allowed authorities to prosecute decades-old sex crimes.
In Ayala's case, the diocese reached the settlement on April 5 to end a lawsuit involving accusations of sexual misconduct against the priest, Lincoln said. The two women who filed the lawsuit will each be paid $ 15,000, with the money coming from the diocese's insurer, Catholic Mutual Group, Lincoln said.
The pastor of Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mecca since 1991, Ayala was placed on administrative leave in June 2002 after an unrelated complaint accused the priest of sexual harassment and misconduct involving a minor.
Ayala moved to Mexico soon afterward. He could not be located for comment Thursday.
"Both the civilian and church authorities investigated the allegations made against Father Ayala and determined not to proceed," Lincoln said. "Father Ayala has decided to continue his priestly ministry in Mexico. We will advise any subsequent bishops of the claims and resolution that occurred in our diocese."
Lincoln said Ayala has not yet returned to ministry in Mexico.
John Henley, the attorney for the two women who accused Ayala of sexual abuse, declined to comment Thursday, citing instructions from his clients The sisters, now in their 20s, had sued the diocese in September 2002.
They accused Ayala of repeatedly molesting them in 1988 and 1989 when he baby-sat the girls, then ages 7 and 9, at their Victorville home while their mother worked, Henley said in a 2002 interview.
The sisters were parishioners of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hesperia, according to court documents. Ayala, whom Henley has described as being close to the sisters' family for years, occasionally performed services at the Hesperia church at that time, although he was assigned to Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Bernardino.
News of the Ayala settlement and Luque's agreement not to return to ministry came two days after the diocese reported that Barnes had reinstated the Rev. Peter Covas, a longtime Inland priest accused in two pending lawsuits of molesting two boys in the 1970s.
Covas was removed in April 2002 as pastor at St. Peter and St.
Paul Church in Rancho Cucamonga after decades-old allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against the priest.
After a yearlong investigation, prosecutors declined to file charges in the case, citing concerns about the creditability of the two men.
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