LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A former Catholic priest has been charged with sexually assaulting four boys in Palmdale and Redondo Beach several decades ago.
Fifty-eight-year-old Christopher John Cunningham was charged Wednesday with 12 counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14.
According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Cunningham committed the assaults while working as an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale and Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach.
The crimes occurred between 1995 and 2001.
“It authenticates in a very real way that what happened to them matters,” Anthony DeMarco, an attorney representing some of the alleged victims, told CBSLA Wednesday. DeMarco is also working on a civil case against Cunningham.
While at Saint Mary’s, Cunningham assaulted an 11-year-old boy twice between November 1995 and September 1997, the DA’s office alleges. He also sexually assaulted another boy at the victim’s home on multiple occasions between June 1996 and June 1998.
Then, when working at Saint Lawrence, he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy twice between July 1998 and January of 2001, prosecutors claim. He’s also accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy several times during the same period.
“The victims were innocent children who have spent most of their lives with the trauma caused by the abuse alleged in this case,” L.A. County DA George Gascon said in a 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.”
Cunningham’s full employment history with the church was not confirmed. It’s unclear if he worked in any other parishes.
“As a survivor or a victim of clergy sex abuse, in order to heal, we have to have affirmation and some kind of justice, which hasn’t happened for decades,” Cynthia Falter, a victim’s rights advocate, told CBSLA Wednesday.
The case is being investigated by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.