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Sex Abuse Case Against Priest Goes to D.A.

Probe: Prosecutors will decide whether to charge John Lenihan over allegation that the cleric impregnated a teen, paid for abortion.

June 08, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The results of a criminal investigation of a Roman Catholic priest who allegedly impregnated a Villa Park teenager and paid for her abortion 20 years ago have been turned over to prosecutors, an Orange County sheriff's spokesman confirmed Friday.

The county district attorney's office will now decide whether to file charges against John Lenihan, the former pastor of St. Edward Church in Dana Point.

The Orange and Los Angeles dioceses agreed in April to pay $1.2 million to Lori Haigh of San Francisco to settle molestation accusations made against Lenihan in a civil lawsuit. Lenihan also agreed to be removed from the priesthood. He has not confirmed or denied a relationship with Haigh. Earlier, he had admitted to molesting another teenage girl and having sexual relationships with adult women.

Haigh, now 37, filed a report with the Sheriff's Department in April, immediately after a news conference announcing the settlement. She said Lenihan had molested her for three years, beginning at age 14, after he noticed her guitar-playing and asked her to perform for the church's Sunday Mass.

She said she went to the Sheriff's Department because many of the alleged incidents took place in the priest's car on deserted roads, outside the jurisdiction of city police departments. Lenihan was a youth pastor at St. Norbert Church in Orange at the time.

If prosecutors decide to push forward with the case, it would mark the first time during the current Catholic sex scandal that an Orange County priest faced criminal charges.

Another priest, Sigfried F. Widera, who left Orange County in 1986 after accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced, was charged last month in Milwaukee with nine felony counts involving sexual abuse of three minors in the early 1970s. He's also being investigated by authorities here after three Orange County accusers stepped forward this year to say he molested them.

Authorities in Milwaukee say Widera has disappeared from his Arizona home and has not been arrested.

--- UNPUBLISHED NOTE ---

Siegfried Widera is the correct spelling, not "Sigfried Widera" as reported in this story.

--- END NOTE ---

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