Fresno Bee [Fresno CA]
December 18, 2021
By Yesenia Amaro
The Diocese of Fresno failed to name at least five priests who have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct when it released its delayed list of credibly accused clergy in early August, according to records provided by a law firm representing victims of sexual abuse.
The Fresno Bee previously reported that three of the five clergy members were missing from the list. The additional two — Rev. Orlando Alberto Battagliola and Father Edgardo Arrunataegui Jimenez — were identified by Jeff Anderson & Associates, which represents victims of sexual abuse, the vast majority of whom have cases involving clergy.
The list released by the diocese is “incomplete and inaccurate,” said Mike Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates.
He said the Fresno Diocese has misled the public about the dangers posed by the priests left off the list.
“Time and time again, this diocese has shown that it cannot be trusted to police itself,” Reck told The Bee.
But Chandler Marquez, the Fresno Diocese’s director of communications, said the list of credibly accused clergy, along with other safeguards, is an “honest, open and transparent effort to provide information to the public.”
In a statement to The Bee, he explained why the five priests are not on its list.
“The list does not include clerics of the previously named Diocese of Monterey-Fresno, where the alleged abuse occurred in a geographical area of what is now the Diocese of Monterey, nor does the list include clerics who are currently named in civil litigation,” he said. “Once the litigation process has concluded and, in the event, a credible allegation has been determined, then the cleric’s name will be added to the list.”
The Monterey-Fresno Diocese split in 1967.
Marquez described the list as a “living” document, as more names could be added in the future, if warranted.
“We ask that others join us in praying for the victim survivors of clergy abuse,” he said.
The Diocese of Fresno oversees 87 parishes in Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Merced, and Mariposa counties. The diocese serves an estimated 1.2 million Catholics across those eight counties.
THESE ARE THE PRIESTS NOT ON THE DIOCESE’S LIST, LAW FIRM SAYS
After conducting an internal investigation that lasted more than two years, the Fresno Diocese on Aug. 6 posted to its website a list of credibly accused clergy with more than 60 names on it.
The diocese was one of the last in California to make its list public. Almost all other dioceses throughout the state made that information public in 2018 and 2019.
Battagliola and Jimenez are both missing from the diocese’s list, according to research conducted by Jeff Anderson & Associates.
Battagliola served in the Monterey-Fresno Diocese before it split into two dioceses, according to records compiled by the law firm and shared with The Bee. A 2003 lawsuit accused Battagliola of sexually abusing a 14-year-old altar boy in the early 1970s while serving in San Luis Obispo. He was murdered in a San Francisco motel room in 1977. A 2004 record from the Diocese of Monterey, created in December 1967, says the diocese had several cases pending, and one of them involved Battagliola.
Jimenez served in the Orange County Diocese before joining the Fresno Diocese in 1998. He departed Fresno about six years later.
The Orange County Diocese didn’t disclose until 2004 that Jimenez had been removed from his position there because he had faced credible allegations of sexual abuse.
In 2017, he was reportedly working as a hospital chaplain in Peru.
Rev. Efren Cirilio Neri, who served as the head of the Fresno Mexican Catholic Youth Association under the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno, also doesn’t appear on the diocese’s list, the firm found.
While The Bee previously reported Jeff Anderson & Associates’ finding that Neri was missing from the list, the firm has since revealed new information about accusations against him.
Neri was accused of fathering a child in 1958 while serving in Rialto — an allegation that he denied, the San Diego Diocese said in a January 2020 statement. A formal investigation was inconclusive, but provisions were made for the child, according to the statement.
Neri began serving in Fresno in 1965 and the diocese was aware of the paternity accusation, according to the statement. He died in 1982.
“His name is not on the list of credibly accused priests because no reports have ever been received accusing Father Neri of misconduct with a minor,” the San Diego Diocese said in the statement. “None in San Diego, none in San Bernardino and none in Fresno.”
Reck disagrees. He has filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Diocese involving Neri over sexual abuse allegations with a minor. The suit seeks a jury trial.
Rev. Gaspar Bautista and Father Anthony Moreno are also missing from the diocese’s list, as previously reported by The Bee.
Bautista served in Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mendota and Mission Our Lady of Lourdes in Three Rocks until the Archdiocese of Los Angeles alerted the Diocese of Fresno in 2016 about allegations that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with a minor during his time in L.A. He was removed from ministry in 2016, according to a 2018 record from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, compiled by the law firm and shared with The Bee.
The Diocese of Fresno was hit with a lawsuit in December 2019, alleging child sexual abuse by Moreno. Moreno allegedly sexually abused Toni Moreland, a plantiff in the lawsuit, around 1980 at St. Philip the Apostle in Bakersfield. He was placed on administrative leave in June 1981, and stopped serving as a priest in February 1995.
A tip to the attorneys identified Moreno as working as a Boy Scouts leader in Rosamond, north of Lancaster, following the filing of the lawsuit.
When contacted by The Bee in October 2020, he denied ever working at the Diocese of Fresno.
THERE ARE ‘LIKELY’ MORE ‘OFFENDERS,’ ATTORNEY SAYS
The state’s Child Victims Act, also known as Assembly Bill 218, gave survivors of child sexual abuse a window to sue. That window of opportunity will close on Dec. 31. 2022, and victims can sue the institutions even if their alleged abuser is dead or alive, Reck said.
“I think it is very likely that there are more offenders who have not been disclosed by the Diocese of Fresno,” Reck said.
Reck said he hopes potential survivors of these five priests will know that they’re not alone.
“Just because the diocese didn’t do the right thing, doesn’t mean they were not hurt,” he said.
Reck said the Diocese of Fresno is not being transparent by saying that these five priests were omitted from the list either because they committed an offense elsewhere or they committed the offense under the Monterey-Fresno Diocese. He said he hopes the “diocese finally does the right thing.”
Joelle Casteix, of Orange County, is a survivor of child abuse who now does advocacy work to hold dioceses accountable. She’s worked with survivors and their attorneys in Fresno.
“If I can do nothing else, I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to another child,” she said. “I’ve spent the past 20 years being the adult that I wish was in my life when I was being victimized: the strong adult who put child safety first, instead of a church, a school, or a reputation.”