Fresno Catholic bishop speaks on priest sex abuse scandal, promises thorough review

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno has agreed to release the names of priests accused of sexual misconduct — but not until after a thorough review of its records dating back to 1922.

Bishop Armando Ochoa made the announcement Friday, saying that he has been in extensive dialogue with different church groups over that last four months.

Nationwide, Catholic dioceses have begun releasing the names of dozens of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse. The Diocese of Fresno oversees 87 parishes in the counties of Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa.

“This process could not be rushed,” Ochoa said, reading from a statement. “It has provided me with a variety of trustworthy perspectives and recommendations and I have great confidence in the depth of input I have received.”

Diocese spokeswoman Teresa Domiguez said that while she could not be specific as to when the names would be released, she said it would happen within a year.

Ochoa said that to ensure the review is done in a timely manner, the review of the clergy files will be led by Kathleen McChesney, of Kinsale Management Consulting and the former executive assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Once the review is complete, the diocese, with input from several church groups, including Diocesan Review Board, College of Consultors and Sensitive Issues Committee, will determine how the information will be categorized and released.

Dominguez said the problem of sexual abuse among the clergy has shaken the diocese “deeply and emotionally.” Dominguez shared that she too was a victim of abuse, and she understands the emotional pain that comes from being a victim.

“Healing is a lifetime experience,” she said.

She said the diocese has vowed to do everything it can to assist victims of abuse. She encouraged anyone who believes they are a victim to contact the diocese.

“It gives us a chance to personally connect, on site or off site, in a safe and confidential environment,” she said.

Back in October the diocese acknowledged three of its priests were being investigated due to complaints. 

Dominguez in October said Father Jean-Michael Lastiri and Father Ricardo Magdaleno were placed on paid administrative leave on Sept. 13 and Sept. 28, respectively.  She also said Rev. Gaspar Bautista, has been on paid administrative leave since March 2016. 

The outcome of those cases has not been released.

Lastiri last worked at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Hanford, and previously worked at St. Patrick’s Church in Merced. The issue regarding Lastiri involved material found on his YouTube account. 

Bautista was placed on leave after the diocese was alerted by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles about allegations Bautista was involved in inappropriate behavior with a minor. Magdaleno was placed on administrative leave following a complaint, though Dominguez didn’t elaborate.

Last year, a former lead priest at St. Joseph Church in Los Banos was sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to possessing child pornography. 

Robert E. Gamel, who headed the church from 2009 to 2014, was also required to register as a sex offender. The child pornography case was Gamel’s second conviction for possessing the same illegal image, authorities have said.

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