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Retired O.C. priest charged with molesting boy

July 21, 2009 |  1:24 pm

A retired Roman Catholic priest from Orange County who escaped prosecution six years ago on suspicion of molesting a teenage boy has been charged with allegedly molesting another boy in the 1990s.

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

Lyons faces four felony counts of lewd acts on a child younger than 14 and a sentencing enhancement for substantial sexual conduct with a child, which would make him eligible for a mandatory prison sentence. According to prosecutors, the abuse happened between 1992 and 1995 while Lyons was at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa.

Criminal charges in an earlier case against Lyons were dropped after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 invalidated a California law that allowed the prosecution of old sexual abuse cases. In that case, Lyons had faced felony counts of child molestation that prosecutors said dated back more than two decades.

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

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County 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 Costa Mesa parish school. 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 today 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 spokesman Ryan Lilyengren.

Lyons is being held at Orange County Jail on $100,000 and is set to be arraigned Wednesday. If convicted of all charges, Lyons faces a potential sentence of 14 years in state prison.

-- Paloma Esquivel