Crime

Fresno priest told followers they needed sin masturbated away, police say. Now he faces sex charges

An Anglican priest in Fresno has been arrested and charged with sexual misconduct involving at least three adult parishioners. And police fear there could be dozens more victims.

Jesus Antonio Castaneda Serna, 51, was taken into custody on Sunday after an investigation by Fresno police detectives. Serna, who headed the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church in Fresno, is alleged to have convinced frightened followers that they had sinned or were cursed and that the only cure was to be rubbed with a “sacred oil” and be masturbated by him.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Serna told his victims that this was a special ritual he learned while in India and that their semen needed to be examined before they could be healed.

Dyer said many of Serna’s victims were undocumented immigrants, a fact that the priest is alleged to have exploited.

“Serna preyed on the undocumented because he knew they would be reluctant to talk to the police,” Dyer said.

Dyer said authorities believe they’ve identified 22 potential victims but there may be hundreds more victims.

Jesus Antonio Serna.JPG
Jesus Antonio Serna FRESNO POLICE DEPARTMENT

U Visa gives undocumented victims protection

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp and Dyer urged the other victims to come forward, saying that they don’t need to be afraid. If they are undcoumented, they can apply for a U visa that is granted to victims of mental or physical abuse and who are willing to cooperate with police.

Anyone who believes they are a victim may call the Fresno Police Department at 559-621-7000.

Serna was booked into Fresno County Jail on Sunday and posted bond on Monday.

Smittcamp said Serna has been charged with multiple counts of sexual battery, battery and attempted sexual battery. So far, detectives have taken statements from three victims, ages 54, 45 and 43, and there are at least 19 others who told church officials they, too, are victims. At least one of those victims is female.

Smittcamp said Serna faces up to 11 years in jail if he’s found guilty on all counts. That could change if more victims come forward.

Serna ousted by diocese in 2017

Dyer said Serna was a former Catholic priest in Yakima, Washington, from 1997 to 2006.

The Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin said Serna joined the diocese in 2008 but had been relieved of his pastoral and priestly ministry in October 2017 after Bishop Eric Menees received credible information that Serna had committed sexual misconduct. Serna was officially stripped of his duties on Nov. 24, 2017.

In a news release, the diocese said it forwarded information about Serna to Fresno police Authorities at Monday’s news conference did not disclose a timeframe for the alleged misconduct that resulted in Serna’s arrest.

After he left the diocese, Serna moved on to start his own church, Holy Spirit church at 4277 N. West Ave. in Fresno.
A Valley native, Robert has worked at The Fresno Bee since 1994, covering various topics including education, business and agriculture. He currently covers courts.
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