A former Catholic priest charged with lewd acts involving four boys at two parishes in Palmdale and Redondo Beach between the mid-1990s and 2001 was released from custody Friday morning, one day after a judge slashed his bail from $2.2 million to $5,000 over the objection of the prosecution.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader ordered Christopher John Cunningham to sign up for electronic monitoring and not to leave the home of a cousin, where he will be staying, unless he has a medical appointment, a meeting with his attorney or a court hearing. He was also ordered not to have contact with any of the alleged victims.
“The charges are serious. However, I do believe these are unusual circumstances in that the defendant has been at least for a couple of decades now not accused of anything,” the judge said Thursday. “Mr. Cunningham has known for years now about people coming forward with these allegations … I don’t think that the likelihood of (the defendant) fleeing is strong at this point.”
Deputy District Attorney Lowrie Mendoza objected to the reduction of bail for Cunningham, who was charged April 2 with a dozen felony counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14.
Cunningham, 58, was an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale and worked at Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach at the time of the alleged crimes.
Prosecutors say the victims include an 11-year-old boy who was allegedly sexually assaulted on two occasions between November 1995 and September 1997, and a boy, whose age was unavailable, who was allegedly abused at his home sometime between June 1996 and June 1998, while Cunningham was an associate pastor at the Palmdale church.
Prosecutors also allege that Cunningham victimized a 12-year-old boy who was sexually abused on two occasions between July 1998 and January 2001 and a 10-year-old boy who was allegedly sexually abused multiple times while Cunningham was at the Redondo Beach parish.
“The victims were innocent children who have spent most of their lives with the trauma caused by the abuse alleged in this case,” District Attorney George Gascon said in an April 14 statement announcing the charges. “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 is due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom on Aug. 17, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.
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