Catholic ‘Party Priest’ brandished gun, was abusive, suit by Fresno County woman alleges

Fresno Bee [Fresno CA]

July 9, 2021

By Thaddeus Miller

A Fresno County woman has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno over what she says was an abusive relationship with a religious leader called the “Party Priest” who brandished a gun.

The court filing from Wednesday says the Rev. Guadalupe Rios and the woman identified only as Jane Doe were romantically involved for about four years, and that Rios was physically and emotionally abusive.

Rios was head priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Selma from 2014 to 2020. He also served at a church with the same name in Los Banos before that, according to the lawsuit.

The woman worked as a cook and housekeeper for the church’s rectory, which was Rios’ living quarters.

The diocese does not comment on pending litigation, according to Cheryl Sarkisian, chancellor for the Diocese of Fresno. She said in November that Rios was placed on administrative leave while the church investigated the woman’s claims.

Rios pushed the woman to the ground on more than one occasion and struck her in the nose with his forearm once, the lawsuit says.

She was afraid of the priest because he was known to own an AR-15 and .357 revolver, the lawsuit says.

After ending the relationship in 2019, the woman was repeatedly bothered by Rios, who would try to woo her back and would sometimes use threats.

She alleges that in February of last year, Rios cornered her in the rectory with the revolver. He showed her the .357 had a single round, spun the cylinder and put the gun to his head before threatening to kill himself and her.

It was not the only time he threatened to kill himself in front of the woman, the lawsuit says.

The woman filed a restraining order against Rios last fall. “I’m afraid for my safety and for my family. His guns are accessible and since he threatened me before with killing me I’m afraid when he finds out about the diocese knowing the truth about him,” the woman says in her declaration. “He would come after me in retaliation against me.”

The Bee wasn’t immediately able to contact Rios.

Church officials filed their own restraining order in November in Fresno County Superior Court, which required Rios to stay away from the Selma church.

The lawsuit also claims Rios was known to abuse alcohol, and was called the “Party Priest” by some local parishioners.

The woman was questioned by representatives of the diocese during their investigation of Rios, the lawsuit says.

Her name and details about her relationship with Rios were included in her petition for a restraining order but should have been redacted. This led to parishioners and members of the community learning her name and sharing it online, according to the lawsuit.

Rios was also a key witness in the arrest of another Los Banos priest. The Rev. Robert E. Gamel, a former Catholic priest in Los Banos, pleaded guilty in March 2016 to possession of child pornography, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office confirmed.

The woman is suing the diocese, Rios and others for yet-to-be determined and ongoing damages. Her attorney did not immediately return requests for comment.

The next scheduled hearing is a case management conference on Nov. 4.