A 78-year-old former Catholic priest from Leisure World pleaded guilty today to molesting an altar boy in the early to mid 1990s at St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa, beginning when the victim was 9 years old.
Denis Lyons, who left the priesthood in April 2004, is expected to be sentenced on May 25 to a year in jail and five years probation. Orange County Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseno, who accepted the plea agreement the defendant reached with prosecutors, is also expected to order Lyons to complete 400 hours of community service or pay a fine. Lyons could have faced up to 14 years in prison had he gone to trial.
``The victim has asked to resolve this case without going through a highly publicized trial,'' Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told the judge. Another alleged victim, who Lyons was not charged with molesting, was willing to testify to corroborate the named victim's testimony, but he also wanted to avoid a jury trial, Brown said.
That man came forward to allege that Lyons molested him when he was 13 to 17 years old, starting in 1979, but charges could not be filed because of the statute of limitations, Brown said.
``I'm pleased he (Lyons) finally accepted responsibility so that the victims can put this behind them and find some peace,'' Brown said after the hearing.
Joelle Casteix of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests was pleased by the plea agreement, but also charged that some Diocese of Orange officials should also be held accountable for ``covering up'' Lyons' crimes.
``It's about time for Denis Lyons to finally see the inside of a jail cell,'' Casteix said. ``But you can tell how traumatized the victims are that they were still reticent to testify during a trial ... It's time to hold Diocese officials accountable. They knew Lyons was a molester in the 1970s and they sent him to treatment and then promoted him.''
Diocese spokesman Stephen Bohannon declined comment.
``There's nothing we can say. He's been out of the ministry since 2004 and we've resolved it on the civil level,'' Bohannon said.
Lyons' attorney, Gary Pohlson, also declined comment, but said his client will likely seek to do his time in a city jail that he would have to pay for. Lyons would have to do 85 percent of the time under today's laws, but it's more likely he would only have to do half the time under laws in place at the time, Brown said.
Lyons will probably do his community service with a veterans' group, but there's some concern that might not be allowed if he would have access to children at the veterans' facility, Brown said. If officials cannot find suitable community service for Lyons, then he could pay a fine up to $5,000, Brown said.
Lyons pleaded guilty to engaging in masturbation with the victim twice in the parish rectory and twice in the church sacristy from 1992 to 1995, beginning when the boy was 9 and ending when he was 11, Brown said.
Lyons was put on leave from the church in 2002 and was charged in 2003 with molesting another boy, but he couldn't be prosecuted because the case was
too old, according to a Supreme Court ruling.
The victim sued Lyons in 2008, prompting his attorney to contact prosecutors. The Diocese settled the case for an undisclosed sum.
-City News Service