A Catholic priest currently working in Reedley was accused Monday of sexual misconduct involving four alleged victims dating back to at least the mid-1980s in Bakersfield.
The allegations were launched Monday during a news conference in Bakersfield.
Sylvia Gomez Ray claimed Monsignor John Esquivel, who is a priest at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Reedley, allegedly sexually assaulted her when she was a teenage girl.
The allegations come on the heels of other priests recently being placed on administrative leave.
Teresa Dominguez, chancellor at the Diocese of Fresno, confirmed Esquivel works at St. Anthony of Padua.
Esquivel couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Joey Piscitelli, with SNAP in Northern California, which organized the news conference, said they filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office recently linking Esquivel with at least four alleged victims. Ray was the only alleged victim to speak out Monday.
Esquivel has not been accused of wrongdoing by law enforcement.
Ray, now 52, told reporters Esquivel began “grooming” her in the mid-1980s after she joined a youth group at St. Joseph’s in Bakersfield. She said she was abused after she became a church secretary when she was around 17 or 18 years old. She said she reported the abuse to multiple adults but said nobody believed her.
“I buried what happened but I never forgot,” her statement reads. “When another of Monsignor’s victims contacted me with her own story, we decided it was time to come forward.”
Joseph C. George, an attorney representing Ray, said he made a report to the California Attorney General’s Office within the last 10 days about the latest allegations. He said the news conference “was an opportunity for the victim to speak directly to any other potential victims.”
“Sylvia hopes that the diocese will certainly look into the allegations,” George said on Monday.
Piscitelli said two of the other alleged victims reached to another priest around 1992 to report the abuse but said nothing was done.
“I think the diocese has a poor record of shielding this priest and other priests,” he said on Monday. “They knew about this priest and they didn’t do anything about it.”
Dominguez said the diocese only learned of the allegations through a statement from SNAP released just prior to Monday’s news conference and had no other details.
“Although the release states that a report was filed with the Attorney General’s Office, the Diocese will follow procedures and report to the Bakersfield Police Department before the end of the day,” the statement reads. “It is diocesan policy to report all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.”
The statement also states this matter will be added to the Diocesan Review Board’s meeting agenda on Monday afternoon.
Bishop Joseph V. Brennan hopes to receive recommendations from the board and will cooperate with any law enforcement’s investigation, according to the statement. Seven priests in the Diocese of Fresno are currently on administrative leave, pending ongoing investigations.