Dinuba Priest on Leave after Allegations of Sexual Abuse, but There's Not Much to Go On, Yet

By James Ward
Visalia Times-Delta
May 22, 2019

In this 2015 photo, youth Director Connie Amezola asks Rev. Raul Diaz to sign some paperwork at the parish office for St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Dinuba. (Photo: Teresa Douglass)

A Dinuba priest has been put on leave by The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno after the church learned of an investigation involving allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

But the case may not be so cut and dry.

On May 19, Bishop Joseph V. Brennan notified the parishioners of St. Catherine's Catholic Church in Dinuba that Rev. Raul Diaz was put on paid administrative leave in a statement.

"This action follows notification that law enforcement has received a report alleging Father Diaz has engaged in inappropriate behavior that may include inappropriate contact with minors.

At this time, this is only a precautionary measure. I ask that you keep this matter in prayer for all involved. If you have any concerns related to Fr. Diaz that you believe may be relevant to law enforcement’s investigation please contact Dinuba Police Department."

Dinuba police officers are working to develop leads, but the case doesn't have more than a complaint, yet.

No arrests have been made and police haven't contacted Diaz.

"The investigation is in its infancy," Lt. Abel Iriarte said. "We don't have the substance. That's not to say there's no substance, we just don't have enough to interview the father at this time."

Dinuba officers were notified last week that allegations were made against Diaz, Iriarte said. They notified the Diocese of Fresno right away.

Pictured here in 2015, Rev. Raul Diaz of Dinuba's St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. (Photo: Teresa Douglass)

Diaz is well-known for his time in the pulpit, but also his time on the cross-country team.

In 2015, a profile on Diaz ran in the Times-Delta/Advance-Register's Inspire section. Diaz, a 1987 graduate of McFarland High School, was a runner for Jim White, the subject of the hit Disney film "McFarland, USA."

Iriarte said Diaz makes public appearances often in Dinuba, as a community member, priest, and star runner.

While the dioceses didn't specifically address the accusations made against Diaz, new protocol is to immediately place the accused on administrative leave.

Earlier this month, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) demanded the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno immediately release the names of any clergy member accused of abuse over the past 50 years.

The Diocese of Fresno stretches across eight counties, including Tulare, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa, and serves 1.2 million parishioners.

Diaz is at least the fourth Tulare County-area connected Catholic priest who has been accused of sexual misconduct. The others include:

Rev. Miguel Flores, most recently of Bakersfield's St. Joseph Catholic Church, was put on leave in March after new allegations surfaced about a Kings County sexual assault he was acquited of in 2002. In that case, Flores was found not guilty of three counts of rape, two counts of witness intimidation and one charge of criminal threats for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Hanford. Flores has also worked at churches in Visalia, Arvin, Fresno, Tranquility, Orange Cove and Squaw Valley.

Rev. John Lastiri was put on leave in September 2018 after parishioners at Hanford's Immaculate Heart and St. Brigid churches complained about homosexual-themed videos found on a YouTube account allegedly belonging to Lastiri. The videos revolved around Lastiri's attraction to "bears," a slang term used in the gay community to refer to adult burly, bearded men. Lastiri has also worked at churches in Visalia, Merced, and Fresno.

Rev. Eric Swearingen, who is currently fighting brain cancer, was accused in 2006 of molesting a teenage altar boy many years earlier. No criminal charges were ever filed in that case, but a civil jury ruled that Swearingen did likely abuse the alleged victim but that the diocese did not have any prior knowledge of the incident. The lawsuit required that the jury find both claims to be true. Because of the split decision, the judge ruled it a mistrial. A second trial was scheduled, but the two sides agreed to binding arbitration well before the court date — arbitration the two sides agreed to keep private.

The Diocese of Fresno announced in February it would review charges of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials dating back to 1922.

Members of SNAP say that review is taking too long and information on sexual abuse charges against members of the Catholic clergy should be released immediately.

The Roman Catholic Church has been shaken worldwide by a wave of clergy sexual-abuse cases since 2002 when the Boston archdiocese was accused of ignoring years of warnings about priests accused of molesting 130 people.

In 2018, after a damning grand jury report uncovered 300 abusive priests in Pennsylvania, multiple state attorneys general have opened their own cases, and hundreds of new victims are expected to come forward across the U.S.

Sexual misconduct allegations have also led to criminal charges, settlements and resignations of priests in Ireland, Australia and several other countries.

Pictured here in 2015, Rev. Raul Diaz of Dinuba's St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church with his letterman jacket from McFarland High School. (Photo: Teresa Douglass)

James Ward covers entertainment, news, sports and lifestyles for the Visalia Times-Delta/Tulare Advance-Register. Follow him on Twitter. Get alerts and keep up on all things Tulare County for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.








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