The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said Saturday it had never heard of allegations by a man — who just sued the church over claimed sexual abuse by a priest — until the lawsuit was filed this week.
An Archdiocese spokeswoman, Monica Valencia, told City News Service today that the allegations are news to the church.
She said the priest named in the lawsuit — the Rev. Christopher Cunningham — was reassigned from his parish church in Covina “due to management issues not related to misconduct.
“The Archdiocese received allegations of improper conduct concerning Father Cunningham in August, 2005,” the spokeswoman told CNS. “According to Archdiocesean policy, an announcement concerning the allegations was made at the parish, informing the parish community.
“Father Cunningham took a leave of absence and has not been in the ministry since,” Valenica said.
The plaintiff, identified only as John CJ Doe, alleges child sexual abuse and negligence. The Los Angeles Superior Court suit filed Thursday also names as defendants Cunningham and St. Louise de Marillac Church.
The suit seeks unspecified damages.
“Plaintiff is one of two known victims of Father Cunningham’s child sexual abuse,” the suit alleges.
A archdiocese spokeswoman did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
The suit states that the plaintiff was abused in 2001 and 2002 when he was 12 and 13 years old. 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 prior reports state. 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, according to the earlier media accounts.
However, the St. Louise de Marillac parishioners were not given an explanation from the archdiocese as to why the pastor was transferred, the lawsuit states.
“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 alleges.
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 states.
“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 states.
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 alleges.
“Instead, defendants have been content to have victims of Father Cunningham suffer in silence believing that they are alone,” the suit states.
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 states. He also went with boys to movies, to Starbucks and on other outings without having a chaperone present, the suit alleges.
—City News Service