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Priest Is Arrested in Alleged Molestations

Cleric of St. Thomas the Apostle in Koreatown is accused of abusing two boys and an older teen.

September 29, 2004|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

Police arrested a Catholic priest Tuesday on suspicion of molesting two boys from his church, St. Thomas the Apostle in Koreatown, and sexually assaulting a 19-year-old parishioner.

The incidents began in 2001, when Father Fernando Lopez was transferred from a church in Rome, Italy, to St. Thomas the Apostle parish, and continued through the first half of this year, said Lt. Dennis Shirey, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's child protection section.

Lopez's background had been checked before the transfer, said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"If we had been aware of any previous allegations, he would not have received the assignment," he said.

Lopez, 40, abused his authority to initiate the sexual incidents, some of which occurred on church property, during illicit relationships that spanned months in some cases, Shirey said.

"It was aggressive coercion," he said.

Investigators believe that the relationships with the boys, ages 14 and 15, and the older teenager did not overlap, Shirey said. Police also think others might have been victimized during the nearly four years Lopez was an associate pastor at St. Thomas.

"We hope that if there are other victims, that they come forward," Shirey said.

A parishioner approached church officials with allegations against Lopez in July. Church officials immediately suspended Lopez and went to police, Tamberg said.

"It's how we handle these kinds of incidents now," Tamberg said.

The archdiocese faces more than 500 lawsuits involving hundreds of alleged sexual molestation victims. Some of the cases date back more than 40 years.

Lopez was arrested at his home and held in lieu of $300,000 bail.

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