3 priests placed on leave amid in­quiry

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Livingston Chronicle - BY YE­SE­NIA AMARO ya­maro@fres­nobee.com

Three priests, in­clud­ing one with a trou­bled his­tory of al­legedly seek­ing sex part­ners on­line and an­other ac­cused of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior with a mi­nor, are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated fol­low­ing com­plaints sub­mit­ted to the Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese of Fresno.

The priests are on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing the out­come of their probes – al­though at least in one case the priest has been on leave for over two years, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion hasn’t been com­pleted.

Fa­ther Jean-Michael La­stiri and Fa­ther Ri­cardo Mag­daleno were placed on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave on Sept. 13 and Sept. 28, re­spec­tively, said Teresa Dominguez, chan­cel­lor for the Dio­cese of Fresno. A re­quest to in­ter­view Bishop Ar­mando X. Ochoa was de­clined.

Con­tacted by phone, La­stiri first hung up on The Bee, and he didn’t re­turn a sec­ond call seek­ing com­ment.

“Com­plaints were brought to Bishop Ochoa’s at­ten­tion by con­cerned par­ish­ioners,” Dominguez said of La­stiri’s case. “The ma­te­rial that was as­sessed was con­sid­ered to be scan­dalous, al­though not il­le­gal. This war­ranted a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that is now is process.”

A third priest, the Rev. Gas­par Bautista, has been on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave since March 2016, Dominguez said.

Bautista was placed on leave af­ter the Dio­cese of Fresno was alerted by the Arch­dio­cese of Los An­ge­les about al­le­ga­tions Bautista was in­volved in re­gard­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior with a mi­nor dur­ing his time in LA.

Bautista was as­signed to St. Paul in Tran­quil­ity and St. Vin­cent de Paul in San Joaquin in Oc­to­ber 1999. The fol­low­ing year he was trans­ferred to St. Jonh’s Cathe­dral in Fresno, and in 2001 he was as­signed Our Lady of Guadalupe in Men­dota and Mis­sion Our Lady of Lour­des in Three Rocks, where he was un­til be­ing placed on leave in 2016.

The dio­cese ear­lier this month said Ochoa be­gan talks with a re­view board to de­ter­mine whether it will make pub­lic the names of priests who have been ac­cused of sex­ual abuse. These three in­ves­ti­ga­tions are sep­a­rate to that on­go­ing re­view.

A canon­i­cal au­di­tor was ap­pointed to over­see La­stiri’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Dominguez said. But el­e­ments of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion were out­sourced to en­sure the nec­es­sary ex­per­tise on “in­ter­net tech­nol­ogy” was uti­lized.

“The cur­rent is­sue of con­cern in­volved ma­te­rial found on a YouTube ac­count that be­longed to Fr. La­stiri,” Dominguez said. “Other con­cerns are very dated and are still be­ing as­sessed. There­fore, I can­not com­ment on it fur­ther.”

A site called church­pu­rify.com, which was cre­ated by “con­cerned lo­cal Catholics,” says it ex­ists to “en­sure the par­ish­ioners in the Dio­cese of Fresno are fully aware of the trou­bled past and cur­rent prob­lems re­gard­ing the min­istry of Rev. Fa­ther Micheal La­stiri.” The site men­tions the date La­stiri was placed on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

“In 2018, Fa­ther La­stiri was dis­cov­ered to have an ac­tive YouTube Chan­nel in which he liked, sub­scribed, and listed as ‘fa­vorites’ nu­mer­ous graphic ho­mo­sex­ual videos, mu­sic and a pod­cast since 2008,” the site says. “When he was no­ti­fied by Bishop Ochoa that par­ish­ioners were aware of the chan­nel, ma­te­rial from the chan­nel be­gan to dis­ap­pear.”

A re­quest to speak with a mem­ber of the group of con­cerned Catholics be­hind church­pu­rify.com went unan­swered.

La­stiri was last work­ing at Im­mac­u­late Heart of Mary Church in Han­ford, where he had served since 2012.

It’s not the first time La­stiri has been un­der pub­lic scru­tiny. Con­cerns about La­stiri were first made pub­lic in a

DI­ANA BALDRICA Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Fa­ther Gas­par Bautista was as­signed in 2001 to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Men­dota.

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