Longtime priest at Our Lady of Refuge placed on leave due to ‘credible’ allegations of misconduct

The longtime priest at Our Lady of Refuge in East Long Beach has been placed on administrative leave after two allegations of misconduct from decades ago were found to be credible, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles confirmed in a statement Thursday.

Several years ago, the Rev. Raymond Morales, 64, had been accused of “misconduct involving a minor while Father Morales was also a teenager,” the archdiocese said in an email. The report was investigated and, at the time, found not to be credible.

However, a second allegation recently was made concerning another minor and similar conduct, also when Morales was a teenager.

“Both incidents were investigated again and found to be credible,” said the archdiocese. Officials did not say what was specifically alleged, nor what led to the change in outcome of the second investigation. It’s also unclear exactly when the second complaint was made and when Morales was placed on leave.

Morales, who has been in ministry for 37 years, could not be reached for comment, but he wrote a letter that was given to some members of the parish denying the “false” allegations.

“I am deeply shocked and saddened by all of this,” he wrote in the letter, printed on church letterhead. “I hope you will keep me in your prayers.”

Msgr. Jim Halley, the vicar for clergy for the Archdiocese, delivered an announcement to the church last weekend, telling the congregation that under the archdiocese’s zero-tolerance policy, “anyone, whether clergy or laity, serving in the archdiocese, who is found to have credible allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 18 may not have any assignment in any ministry in the archdiocese.”

Morales served at Our Lady of Refuge from July 1981 (the year he was ordained) to July 1985, then again from July 2008 to the present, according to the archdiocese. He also served at St. Gerard Majella in Los Angeles, St. Mel in Woodland Hills and St. Bridget of Sweden in Lake Balboa.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to pay $660 million to victims of abuse, the church’s largest payout in a sprawling scandal that spread across the country after a series of stories that appeared in the Boston Globe in early 2002.  The Los Angeles settlement included more than 500 allegations of abuse over the decades, and led to reforms in the church, including its zero-tolerance policy.

Our Lady of Refuge, located at 5195 Stearns St., was founded on May 10, 1948, according to the church website. Its parish school, founded in 1953, enrolls pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade students.

On Thursday afternoon, some parents picking up their kids did not know about the allegations, while others expressed shock, describing Morales as a good priest. Some said they were dismayed that such old allegations are coming up now.

“I hope we get him back soon,” one parent, Valerie Medina, said.

The archdiocese asked anyone with information or concerns to contact Dr. Heather Banis in the Archdiocesan Office of Victims Assistance Ministry at 213-637-7650.

Staff writer Valerie Osier contributed to this report.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.