LOS ANGELES — A former Catholic priest has been charged with lewd acts on four boys at two parishes in Palmdale and Redondo Beach between the mid-1990s and 2001, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.
Christopher John Cunningham, 58, was charged April 2 with a dozen felony counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Cunningham was an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale and worked at Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach at the time of the alleged crimes.
The alleged victims include an 11-year-old boy who was allegedly sexually assaulted on two occasions between November 1995 and September 1997 and a boy — whose age was not immediately available — who was allegedly abused at his home some time between June 1996 and June 1998, while Cunningham was an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s.
Prosecutors also allege that Cunningham victimized a 12-year-old boy who was allegedly sexually abused on two occasions between July 1998 and January 2001 and a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly sexually abused on multiple occasions during the same time frame while Cunningham was at Saint Lawrence Martyr.
“The victims were innocent children who have spent most of their lives with the trauma caused by the abuse alleged in this case,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement announcing the charges. “My office is committed to holding accountable anyone who abuses and takes advantage of our children, especially when they hold a position of trust.”
The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said in a statement that the announcement of Cunningham’s arrest was the first time church officials were made aware of the criminal allegations against the former priest. The Archdiocese said it is cooperating with investigators.
“Fr. Christopher Cunningham has been out of ministry since 2005 after the Archdiocese received and investigated allegations of boundary violations, which are unrelated to the current criminal matter,” the Archdiocese said.
“The Archdiocese was first informed through a media inquiry of an allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor in May 2015 when a civil lawsuit was filed, ten years after he had been removed from ministry. The Archdiocese was not aware of any information concerning these allegations prior to being advised of the civil lawsuit,” the statement said. An arraignment date has not yet been set for Cunningham.
The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau, according to the District Attorney’s Office.