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Retired Orange County Catholic priest arrested in alleged molestation

Denis Lyons is held on suspicion of molesting a boy in the 1990s while assigned to a Costa Mesa church.

July 22, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

A retired Roman Catholic priest from Orange County who escaped prosecution six years ago for allegedly molesting a teenage boy has been arrested on suspicion of molesting another boy in the 1990s, authorities said Tuesday.

Denis Lyons, 75, of Seal Beach was arrested Monday afternoon while he was playing cards at a community center near his home in the Leisure World retirement community, prosecutors said.

Lyons faces four felony counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14 and a sentencing enhancement for substantial sexual conduct with a child, which would make him subject to a mandatory prison sentence, according to prosecutors. The abuse occurred between 1992 and 1995 while Lyons was assigned to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa, prosecutors said.

Criminal charges in an earlier case against Lyons were dropped after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 invalidated as unconstitutional a California law that had extended the statute of limitations on child molestation to include decades-old cases.

In the previous case, Lyons had faced felony counts of child molestation that prosecutors said dated back more than 20 years.

Prosecutors identified the victim in the most recent case only as "John Doe," a man they say came forward only last year to Costa Mesa police.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange announced a settlement earlier this year with Jonathan Kirrer, 24, who filed a lawsuit saying Lyons sexually abused him repeatedly when he was a second-grader at a parish school at St. John the Baptist. Kirrer also accused the diocese of conspiring to conceal the alleged sexual abuse.

According to the lawsuit, Kirrer said he was molested by Lyons at least four times in the mid-1990s.

A spokesman for the diocese said Tuesday that Lyons was removed from ministry in 2002 and "was committed to a life of prayer and penance."

"Rev. Lyons has not been permitted to return to ministry or the Diocese of Orange in any public capacity since his removal," said diocese spokesman Ryan Lilyengren.

Lyons is being held at Orange County Jail in lieu of 100,000 bail and is scheduled to be arraigned today. If convicted of all charges, he faces a potential sentence of 14 years in state prison.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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