3 priests placed on leave amid inquiry
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
Father Gaspar Bautista was assigned in 2001 to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mendota.