By Maysen Marolda
For 30 years, Monsignor Michael Lenihan led the congregation at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in South Redondo Beach until he died in 2011. Known as “Father Mike,” many people saw him as a beloved spiritual leader who tirelessly advocated for the less fortunate. However, an attorney who is currently handling a child sex abuse case against former St. Lawrence priest Chris Cunningham claims Lenihan knew the priest was accused of sexual assault before Cunningham arrived at the parish. As numerous allegations of sexual misconduct have been unveiled over the past few weeks as a result of the “#Metoo” campaign, it is evident that the people who help to cover up these crimes facilitate the perpetrator’s actions.
While at St. Lawrence, Lenihan served as Cunningham’s superior. Cunningham was 26 years old at the time when the sexual assaults were committed against a young boy attending St. Lawrence Martyr School. According to the victim’s attorney, Anthony DeMarco, the incidents occurred more than once in the rectory and on school grounds, during school hours when the child was isolated. After investigations were pursued and Cunningham was found guilty, he was transferred to St. Louise de Marillac in Covina.
According to DeMarco, Lenihan knew about the allegations and helped transfer Cunningham to other parishes where similar abuse is alleged. Clearly, Lenihan helped to move him to another church so that he would not face any punishments at St. Lawrence. If Lenihan were to report Cunningham’s actions to police, Cunningham could have been imprisoned and other boys would not have had to endure the same sexual abuse that the St. Lawrence boy did.
According to a former church employee at St. Lawrence, she witnessed Cunningham lead a group of young boys up to the rectory. As a result, she reported this suspicious activity to Lenihan because she “did not think it was right.” Although Lenihan was adored throughout the community, he is still at fault for not addressing Cunningham’s sexual conduct because he turned a blind eye to the boys who suffered his sexual tendencies.
Furthermore, it is clear that Lenihan was aware of Cunningham’s behavior from a letter written to Cardinal Roger Mahony from Monsignor Richard Loomis in which he wrote, “It was clear from what he said that you had spoken with him about the situation.” Lenihan clearly conversed about Cunningham’s sexual past, so he should have taken this knowledge to authorities in order to eliminate Cunningham’s interactions with young children.
Through Chris Cunningham’s actions, it is obvious that sexual assault is facilitated when people do not speak up and try to remove the perpetrator from a place where he can abuse others. The victims of sexual abuse deserve to have justice and a peace of mind in knowing that their abuser is no longer harmful to others.