A former Catholic priest has been charged in the sexual assaults of four boys two decades ago, with the alleged crimes occurring while he worked at churches in Palmdale and Redondo Beach, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.
Christopher John Cunningham, 58, was charged with 12 felony counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14, the DA’s Office said in a new release.
Prosecutors allege that when Cunningham was an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale, he sexually assaulted an 11-year-old boy twice between November 1995 and September 1997.
He’s also accused of sexually assaulting a boy at the child’s home between June 1996 and 1998, the release stated.
Between July 1998 and January 2001, while working Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, Cunningham allegedly sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy twice and a 10-year-old boy on multiple occasions, according to prosecutors.
“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 the statement. “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’s 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.
Authorities filed the case for warrant on April 2. An arraignment date hast not yet been set.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Bureau is investigating the case. Anyone with additional information is asked to call the bureau 562-946-8531.