Former California priest arrested in RI on sex-assault charges
A former Roman Catholic priest working as a psychologist in Rhode Island was arrested Wednesday on a warrant that accuses him of sexually abusing children in California, authorities said.
Christopher Cunningham was captured by the Rhode Island Violent Fugitive Task Force at a house in Newport, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that Cunningham had been charged with sexually assaulting four boys at two different parishes dating back more than two decades.
He faces 12 felony counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14, according to Gascon’s office.
“The victims were innocent children who have spent most of their lives with the trauma caused by the abuse alleged in this case,” Gascón said. “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, who is accused of multiple counts of lewd acts in the mid-1990s, was wanted by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department, says the release from the Rhode Island Violent Fugitive Task Force.
The task force fielded a request from the sheriffs' department’s major crimes bureau and the U.S. Marshals Service Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force on April 5.
The task force arrested Cunningham at 13 Sylvan Terrace in Newport on Wednesday.
Investigators learned that the former priest had been practicing clinical psychology in Newport and he was licensed by the State of Rhode Island in 2013, says the release.
At least six people have accused Cunningham of “child sexual abuse,” according to Rhode Island authorities. Five of those six plaintiffs have accused Cunningham of abusing them from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s at parishes in Palmdale, Redondo Beach and Covina.
California prosecutors say Cunningham is accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy on two occasions between November 1995 and September 1997 while he was working as an associate pastor at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Palmdale.
Cunningham sexually assaulted another boy sometime between June 1996 and June 1998, they say.
He is accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old on two occasions between July 1998 and January 2001, say prosecutors. Those assaults happened during Cunningham’s time at Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach.
Cunningham is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy on multiple occasions during the same time frame, they say.
In 2017, The Providence Journal reported on civil lawsuits filed against Cunningham. At that time, his lawyer, Robert J.B. Flummerfelt, said that his client “denies the allegations fully.”
After Cunningham's arrest Wednesday, he was arraigned in Superior Court, Warwick.
Authorities are making arrangements for Cunningham's return to California to face the charges, said a spokesman for the Rhode Island Violent Fugitive Task Force, Don Freeman.
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