Before a judge could sentence him to a year in jail for molesting a second-grader almost 20 years ago, retired priest Denis Lyons of Leisure World had to listen to the anguished words of those he hurt.
“Today is the day I finally have closure. I have spent the last 16 years living in pain, living in shame. He took away my innocence as a child. This man has ruined my life and many others besides me,” his now grownup victim said Friday in a victim’s impact statement. “He has changed my perception of religion, life, and right and wrong. Him pleading guilty not only gives me closure but gives other victims closure as well. He is a bad person, a bad man.”
Those words hung in the air as a judge sentenced Lyons, formerly employed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County to one year in jail, five years of formal probation, 400 hours of community service and lifetime sex offender registration.
The victim’s mother also shared her pain and the depth of betrayal she felt when a man of the cloth abused her son.
“Denis Lyons’ hands, which held the consecrated host, which we as Catholics believe is the body of Christ, are the very same hands that abused my son, as well as other victims,” she wrote in a statement read aloud.
In March, , for molesting a young boy at a Costa Mesa Catholic church in the early 90s.
Between Jan. 1, 1992, and Dec. 31, 1995, Lyons molested a young male student, John Doe, while Doe was a second- and third-grader at a school that was part of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Lyons sexually assaulted Doe four times -- twice by engaging in masturbation with him in the priest’s room in the parish rectory and twice in the church sacristy.
A rectory is the living quarters for parish priests. A sacristy is a church room used to store religious garments, church documents and sacred vessels. In September 2008, Doe filed a filed a report on Lyons with the Costa Mesa Police Department.
Lyons was arrested July 20, 2009, while playing cards at a Leisure World community center near his home in Seal Beach.
In addition to being a priest at St. John’s in Costa Mesa, Lyons was a priest at St. Edwards the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point and St. Mary’s by the Sea Catholic Church in Huntington Beach.
Lyons was charged in 2003 with molesting another boy in 1979, but couldn't be prosecuted because the case was too old, according to a Supreme Court ruling.
Lyons allegedly molested two other boys, according to the Orange County District Attorney, but because of the statute of limitations those cases could not be prosecuted either.
Because of the Supreme Court ruling, any molestation allegations before 1988 are too old to go to trial. However, in 1994, a law passed waiving the six-year statute of limitations for victims of child molestation from 1994 on.
In addition to the victims’ statement read at the trial in Orange County Superior Court, the prosecution read statements from the victim’s mother and from another boy the Orange County District Attorney‘s office alleges Lyons molested.
Statement from the victim’s mother
“There are not enough words to describe the impact of his sex abuse on my son at the age of 8 or 9 years old. Denis Lyons has destroyed the spirit within my son and the man that God had called him to be. The pain and shame is real and never goes away. The self-destruction is real and the heartache is real. No human being should have to go through what my son, the other victims, and our families have had to endure at the hands of Denis Lyons. He was a man of the cloth, someone to be trusted, and someone that was considered almost next to God himself.”
Statement from another alleged victim
“I was an innocent 10-year-old child who just suffered the death of my father; my mother thought that getting me involved with the church would help ease my pain. Unfortunately, there was an evil that no one could have ever seen coming. Shortly after becoming involved with the church, I became the victim of sexual abuse from a predator who falsely claimed to be a representative of God. As a child I was a victim, but now I am a man, and I’m a survivor. I am now living my life, and trying to be the best person I can be.”