An alleged victim of former Anglican priest Jesus Antonio Castaneda Serna testified Wednesday that the church leader sexually assaulted him under the pretense of getting rid of a curse.
Serna, who headed the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church in Fresno, is charged with 18 counts of felony sexual battery involving multiple adult male members of his church.
Serna was arrested in February and is out on bond. His preliminary hearing began Wednesday in Judge Jane Cardoza’s courtoom.
The 51-year-old cleric sat quietly with his head mostly down as one of his alleged victims testified about how he went to Serna for help with some personal problems, including the break up with his former girlfriend and a strained relationship with his children.
He was also having doubts about remaining in the church.
But what allegedly happened in Serna’s private office in September, 2014 left the witness confused, angry and deeply shamed.
The witness told prosecutor Kelly Smith that Serna had a method of getting rid of so-called curses by giving congregants a healing massage using special oil.
The alleged victim testified that meant stripping down naked and laying on a sofa where Serna would massage his body, including his testicles and penis.
At first, the witness said he didn’t know what to think, but out of respect for Serna and the church he did not protest.
“Knowing he was a priest, I did it out of faith,” the alleged victim testified in a hushed voice.
Serna allegedly told the witness it was common for women to put curses on men. He also said this particular curse was put on him by his ex-girlfriend’s sister. And he needed to masturbate him until he ejaculated to cure him.
“He said he had to see the sperm in his hand to see the type of illness I had and the severity of it,” he testified.
Serna is also alleged to have told the witness that he loved him. The witness testified that he did not have romantic feelings for the former priest.
After some time, the alleged victim said he realized that Serna was not curing him of anything, but was using him. He testified that he tried to kill himself because he was so full of shame.
“You start confusing God and human beings and you have trouble making a distinction between what is good and what is bad,” he said. “And then you realize what is happening to you isn’t right.”
Defense attorney Ralph Torres, questioned the witness about why he didn’t go to the police. The alleged victim testified Serna sexually assaulted him several times.
The witness said he was embarrassed by what had happened. He said he told several friends, including a Catholic priest and an official with Serna’s church.
Serna was arrested in February after an investigation by Fresno police detectives.
During a press conference at the time, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said investigators believe they’ve identified 22 potential victims but there may be hundreds more.
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.
Serna was a former Catholic priest in Yakima, Wash., from 1997 to 2006.
And he has since started his own church, Holy Spirit Church at 4277 N. West Ave. in Fresno.
More than two dozen spectators were in the courtroom Wednesday, with many of them Serna’s supporters.
The preliminary hearing continues Thursday.