Ex-Los Banos priest charged in child porn case in Merced County — again

Ex-Los Banos priest charged in child porn case in Merced County — again

By Rob Parsons, May 04, 2017, The Fresno Bee

Less than six months after he was released from jail on a child pornography conviction, the former lead priest of a Los Banos Catholic parish faces new charges.

Robert E. Gamel, 67, the former lead priest at St. Joseph Church, will be arraigned Friday on a single felony count of possession of child pornography with a prior conviction, according to Merced County Superior Court records.

Gamel was arrested April 12 following a probation search at his Merced home, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office confirmed.

Deputy District Attorney Travis Colby confirmed the child pornography charge filed late Tuesday is a new allegation related to the April 12 search of Gamel’s home. Colby would not say what probation officers found at Gamel’s home.

“I can’t go into any of the details of the arrest because this is an open case,” Colby said.

The Merced County Public Defender’s Office has been assigned to represent Gamel. Attorneys at that office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gamel was known as “Father Bob” while he was head of the Los Banos church from 2009 to 2014. Allegations surfaced in August 2014 that Gamel obtained a nude image of a teenage parishioner. The issue came to light when the victim’s family contacted the Catholic Diocese of Fresno. Church officials alerted Los Banos police, and Gamel was placed on administrative leave from the church.

Gamel pleaded no contest in March 2016 to a single felony count of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to serve 11 months in jail, avoiding the potential three-year prison term requested by the District Attorney’s Office. Gamel also was required to register as a sex offender and serve four years of probation.

The Catholic Church initiated its own investigation into Gamel, following the close of the criminal investigation, according to Teresa Dominguez, chancellor for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

Gamel spent about six months in custody before he was released from jail in December last year, according to Merced County jail records.

Gamel was “indefinitely removed from ministry,” Dominguez said.

“From that time forward he began receiving a modest allowance, as the Church remains responsible for his basic human needs,” Dominguez said in an email. “When he was released from custody, the Diocese collaborated with law enforcement to ensure that his residence met the requirements of his probation.”

The church’s findings will be compiled in a report that will be sent to the Vatican in Rome. Vatican officials will communicate with the Fresno Diocese for a “final determination in regards to his priesthood,” Dominguez said.

“There is no precedence in this Diocese of a case of this nature,” Dominguez said. “Generally speaking, a priest can be called to live out a life of prayer and penance which involves no form of public ministry or it may be recommended that he is laicized, which is a very complicated, lengthy process that returns him to the state of the laity.”

If convicted, Gamel faces a maximum sentence of six years in state prison. Gamel remained in custody without bail Wednesday at the John Latorraca Correctional Facility in Merced County.

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