The latest sex scandal and PR nightmare for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles comes by way of northern Long Beach, near Compton:
Father Jose Luis Cuevas, 67, the longtime head priest at St. Athanasius Church, is being charged with “nine counts of sexual assault” for years of allegedly molesting female congregants, including a 17-year-old girl, say Long Beach police.
His arrest and removal from the ministry have been quite dramatic:
Archdiocese officials informed attendees of the church's weekend services that their trusted leader would be removed “from all ministry and he will be living privately pending the outcome of these matters,” according to City News Service.
Then, on Monday, Long Beach cops showed up to an unidentified home in San Jacinto to handcuff Cuevas and jail him under $1 million bail. They say they were assisted by officers from the U.S. Marshals Service — meaning his crimes are considered a federal concern.
Here are the priest's alleged deeds (and police believe he had additional victims):
In April 2012, the Long Beach Police Department received information from two female adults that reported being the victims of a sexual battery. … Both women initially reported the incidents to the Archdiocese, and then subsequently filed the police report. During the investigation, a third victim came forward. This victim, a 17-year-old female, reported repeated incidents of inappropriate touching that occurred over a two-year period involving the same suspect.
Regarding the 17-year-old, the Los Angeles District Attorney is slapping Cuevas with one felony county of “lewd acts against a child.”
And as for the two adult women: The California Penal Code says that “sexual battery” charges can be applied to…
… any person who touches an intimate part of another person while that person is unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against the will of the person touched and is for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse.
According to the church's website, congregants include “3,000 families from a variety of ethnic groups. Some of those groups are Latino, some white, some Filipino, some Korean, some African, and some African American.”
Investigators found that Cuevas has been living “on church grounds” during his seven years as priest. Indeed, St. Athanasius does appear to host some sort of barracks at its location on Linden Avenue:
Father Cuevas urges members of the community via the church's site to contact him about “how we may be able to serve your spiritual or material needs.”
The L.A. branch of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, largest in the nation, has also been the most plagued by sexual abuse. In 2007, hoping to put a whopping 508 accusations of sexual abuse behind them, archdiocese officials reportedly paid out a record-breaking sum of $660 million in a mass settlement with the victims. Most famously, young Rita Milla claimed she was abused by seven Catholic priests over a four-year period, including one who gave her a baby.
Update: Todd Tamberg, director of media relations for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, sent us the following statement.
The adults first came forward to the Archdiocese with reports of wrongdoing by Cuevas toward them as adults. We urged them to make a police report. At that time, we bounced Cuevas from ministry and made announcements about Cuevas at St. Anastasia's at all Masses the following Sunday.
As a result of the announcements, a minor in the parish came forward to the archdiocese with a report against Cuevas. The archdiocese immediately reported this to the LBPD. An archdiocesan Victims Assistance staff member accompanied the minor and an adult relative to the police station.