By Corin Hoggard
ABC 30
August 19, 2014

[with video]

A Catholic priest in Los Banos is under investigation for possible sex crimes against a teen.

As the faithful gathered at St. Joseph's Catholic Church Friday, police were next door, serving a search warrant.

The night before, the Diocese of Fresno alerted police of possible internet sex crimes against a local teen by the church's lead pastor, Father Bob Gamel.

"During the search warrant, detectives recovered computer equipment, hard drives and other evidence related to the crime," said Los Banos police Commander Jason Hedden.

Federal investigators are now analyzing the evidence, but Gamel has not been arrested or charged with any crime. The diocese removed him from the church, though, moving him to another location in Los Banos.

The Catholic church has suffered a black eye over priest abuse, but in her time as victims assistance director at the Fresno diocese, this is the first time Cheryl Sarkisian has had to report a case to police.

"It's not very common now in the church and it's because we are raising that level of awareness," she said.

In fact, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports only seven substantiated cases of child sex abuse by clergy in 2013. And the Diocese of Fresno is taking a more proactive approach now to preventing abuse and protecting children.

Gamel signed off on an administrative leave agreement with no presumption of guilt. Teresa Dominguez read part of the agreement to us.

"It is designed to protect the individual from any further accusations pending the outcome of the investigation, to protect the public from any possibility of further wrongdoing, avoidance of scandal and to ensure the integrity of the investigation and judicial processes applicable are not compromised," she said.

St. Joseph's was Gamel's ninth assignment in almost 25 years as an ordained priest. Police are looking for any other possible victims.

Meanwhile, Catholics across the Valley will be asked to pray for the victim and the priest.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.