Fresno Diocesan Priest Accused of Misconduct, Gang Links

The diocese has also accused Fr. Rios of physically and emotionally abusing the 41-year-old church secretary.

Fr. Guadalupe Rios. Credit: St. Joseph Church, Selma
Fr. Guadalupe Rios. Credit: St. Joseph Church, Selma (photo: Courtesy photo / St. Joseph Church, Selma)

FRESNO, Calif. — The Catholic Diocese of Fresno has taken out a restraining order against a priest and launched an investigation of him after he was accused of drug use, physical abuse, threatening behavior and gang links.

Bishop Joseph Brennan of Fresno said Mass last Sunday at St. Joseph’s Church in Selma, Calif. and announced that Father Guadalupe Rios, the parish administrator, has been put on administrative leave while the diocese conducts an investigation.

Cheryl Sarkisian, the diocese's chancellor, confirmed that the priest has been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation is pending.

“This is a matter of an internal investigation and the confidentiality and privacy of all concerned parties will be respected and upheld,” Sarkisian told The Fresno Bee Nov. 3.

The restraining order, approved by a Fresno County Superior Court judge Oct. 30, specifically protects the church building, the diocese offices, the church secretary, her daughters, the church bookkeeper, a supervisor of the priest, and Bishop Brennan, Action News of ABC 30 Fresno reports.

Under the order, the priest may not come within 100 yards of the church or any of the people or properties named. The diocese served the order to Rios at its offices.

Several parishioners told Action News the priest was either in a gang or affiliated with one. Alleged gang links are mentioned in the diocese’s application for a restraining order.

“The Diocese of Fresno feels this matter is a difficult one for all concerned parties, but one that had to be addressed in a timely and forthright manner due to the issues that were brought to the attention of the Diocese of Fresno,” the diocese told Action News, according to its Nov. 2 report.

“This matter does not concern misconduct or sexual abuse of a minor,” the diocese said. “Due to the sensitivity of these matters we do not feel it is appropriate to comment further other than that which is already stated by those parties protected in the court documents."

According to the Fresno Bee, the court documents requesting the restraining order say of the priest: “He is a past gang member or associate and still maintains friendship with gang members.”

Parishioners said they were afraid to be interviewed, telling Action News the priest has posted social media photos of himself with guns, identified as an AK-47, an AR-556, or a .357 Magnum. Selma police seized both of his weapons, the AR-556 and the .357 Magnum, from church grounds.

The diocese has accused Fr. Rios of physically and emotionally abusing the 41-year-old church secretary. She said she had a physical and romantic relationship with Fr. Rios for five years, which she ended last summer. In her own declaration supporting the restraining order, she alleged that the priest was habitually under the influence of marijuana and alcohol, and this would make him suicidal.

She alleged that in February the priest brandished a gun at her and made threats against her life and his own life.

“Mr. Rios and I were in his rectory when he put a gun to his head in front of me,” she wrote in her declaration. “As I started to cry in shock, I asked him what he was doing and he said to me. ‘Either I’m going to die or you are or we both are.’ Due to his past as a gang member and the gangster friends he hangs out with, I’m afraid for my safety and for my family.”

She said his guns are “accessible” and he has previously threatened to kill her. She said she feared “retaliation” when “he finds out about the diocese knowing the truth about him.”

A court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 25. However, Selma police said they have not received any crime reports related to the restraining order.

In November 2019, an 800-year-old relic of St. Albertus Magnus disappeared from the church Rios led sometime between two Sunday morning Masses.

CNA contacted the Diocese of Fresno, which declined to make further comment.

Fr. Rios’ name came up in police reports regarding child pornography allegations against another priest, Father Robert Gamel. According to a police report, Fr. Gamel told Fr. Rios that he had seen nude photographs on the internet showing a boy at the church. Fr. Rios warned him that such photos were considered child pornography and looking at them had legal consequences, the Bakersfield, Calif.-based Eyewitness News television show reported in March 2016.

Fr. Rios is not otherwise mentioned in news reports about the case.

Fr. Gamel was arrested in 2014 and in 2016 he pleaded no contest to one felony count of possession of child pornography on his computer. Fr. Gamel allegedly contacted the boy while at the church, gave him money for clothes and instructed him on what kind to wear.

There are about 1.2 million Catholics in the Fresno diocese, out of about 2.9 million people, including over 140 diocesan priests.