Father Richard Delahunty, accused in a lawsuit of molesting a boy two decades ago, returned to his Roman Catholic parish Saturday after a 10-month internal investigation found “no credible evidence” against him, church officials said.
The pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Laguna Woods is the first Orange County cleric to be reinstated after a molestation accusation since the Roman Catholic Church’s sex scandal erupted in 2002. The alleged abuse occurred in the early 1980s, while he was a pastor at St. Barbara Church in Santa Ana, and the suit is pending.
Delahunty had been on paid leave since Dec. 26, 2003, after a civil suit containing allegations of sexual abuse was filed against him.
“No decision by a bishop has been more deliberated than the one I have just made,” Bishop Tod D. Brown said in a written statement. “I had to be fair to Father Delahunty, who has served the people of God since 1965, while taking seriously this allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.”
The bishop’s decision follows a recommendation by the diocese’s nine-member sexual misconduct board, which includes children’s advocates, a retired police chief, a retired judge, a priest and a nun.
Two victims of sexual abuse were appointed to the board in 2002 and 2003 but resigned shortly afterward, frustrated by what they felt was deference shown by the diocese to accused priests at the expense of victims.
Delahunty and attorneys for the alleged victim could not be reached for comment Monday.
Church officials said the oversight board reviewed, among other evidence, an investigator’s report, professional evaluations and a DVD that showed the accuser detailing his allegations.
“No credible evidence of misconduct with a minor was found,” said Ron Lowenberg, chairman of the board and a former Huntington Beach police chief, in a written statement.
With Delahunty’s return, three Orange County pastors accused of sexual abuse remain on paid leave while their cases are investigated by the oversight board, church officials said.
Jerome Hanson of St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa has been on leave since November 2001 after being accused of molesting a boy in a Northern California parish in the early 1980s. A police sergeant said he saw the alleged victim and the priest in a compromising position at the parish cemetery. A second alleged victim came forward in 2002.
In July 2003, Father Cesar Salazar of St. Joseph Church in Santa Ana asked to be put on leave during an investigation into whether he had downloaded child pornography on his computer.
Msgr. Daniel Murray of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Newport Beach, accused of molesting two boys decades ago, was placed on leave in September 2003. The church settled one case in September for $500,000, but the bishop has not yet ruled whether Murray should lose his pastoral post.