Fresno Bishop Restores Embezzling, Gay Porn Priest

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by Christine Niles  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 17, 2020   

Fr. Lastiri stole $60,000, solicited sex on gay websites

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Bp. Joseph Brennan, Fresno, CA

FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California bishop has quietly reinstated a priest with a decades-long track record of active homosexuality, which includes embezzling parish funds. Evidence also shows the priest may have possessed child porn.

Bishop Joseph Brennan of the Fresno diocese issued a letter Wednesday announcing he is reinstating Fr. Michael Lastiri: "After much prayer and reflection, I have restored faculties to Fr. Jean-Michael Lastiri for pastoral and priestly ministry here in the Diocese of Fresno effective today, September 16, 2020."

The bishop clarified that his ministry will be limited only to assignments approved by the bishop and the local pastor, also hinting that all restrictions could eventually be lifted if Lastiri continues "to exhibit the same future conscientiousness and commitment to his overall wellbeing ... ."

Decades in the Gay Lifestyle

Lastiri has been a priest for more than 30 years, and was former director of worship for the diocese. Most of those years were spent as an active homosexual — including a relationship with a convicted pedophile in the 1990s. 

As Church Militant reported last year, court records from the county of Tulare, California reveal Lastiri was sexually involved with Joe Banuelos, convicted and imprisoned for sexually assaulting a six-year-old boy.

Before the assault, Banuelos was living with Lastiri at Holy Family Church in Visalia, Banuelos himself admitting the two were having sex.

Banuelos had already done time for violent crime prior to hooking up with the priest. Banuelos was regularly seen around town driving Lastiri's Volvo.

Lastiri went by the alias 'Basqueoso,' posting photos of himself along with a number of messages looking for sex.

After his arrest for abusing the child, his room at a rectory was searched and found to be littered with gay porn and children's items. Considering Lastiri was a frequent visitor, the priest would have known of the paraphernalia.

Banuelos eventually died of AIDS after serving his sentence.

But it wouldn't be until 2004 that Lastiri's sexual misconduct would become public. 

Parishioners at St. Patrick's Church in Merced found their pastor soliciting sex on the gay website bear411.com. "Bear" is gay slang for hairy, heavy-set men, whom Lastiri preferred.

Lastiri went by the alias "Basqueoso," posting photos of himself along with a number of messages looking for sex. One of them was published under the name "Mike," with the search category "Want Sex," and the description "looking for bears/admirers to play with."

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Fr. Lastiri's account at bear411.com, a gay website where he solicited sex

Damning evidence of Lastiri's active homosexuality and theft of $60,000 was also discovered by Stephen Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, and former FBI investigator Tom Walsh, hired by Brady to look into Lastiri and other corrupt clergy in the diocese.

Distraught parishioners presented the evidence against Lastiri to then-Bp. John Steinbock, along with proof that Lastiri had embezzled thousands from the parish. The bishop sent Lastiri away to St. Luke Institute, the notorious priest rehabilitation center, for several months before reinstating him to active ministry.

Fourteen years later, in 2018, yet more evidence surfaced of Lastiri's active gay lifestyle

Parishioners discovered a number of graphic gay videos on Lastiri's YouTube channel, proving he had not reformed his life. They presented the evidence to Bp. Armando Ochoa, who had a private meeting with Lastiri. Afterwards the priest erased the evidence of the gay porn and deleted them from his YouTube page.

Even so, Ochoa refused to suspend Lastiri. He only did so after the scandal became public through Church Militant's reporting in 2018.

Child Porn

There is also evidence that Lastiri may have downloaded child porn onto his computer — a criminal offense.

Church Militant obtained a 2004 email from an employee at a local college computer lab who said Lastiri had asked an instructor to wipe his computer clean of all files.

"After the phone call, a tech who had worked on his computer some months ago told me he had found child porn on Lastiri's computer," the email continues. "He told us Lastiri was probably trying to wipe the child porn from the computer."

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2004 email revealing possible evidence that Lastiri downloaded child porn on his computer, a criminal offense

While Bishops Steinbock and Ochoa had proven a great disappointment to local Catholics because of their toleration and cover-up of Lastiri's sexual  misconduct, the faithful had high hopes when Brennan was installed in 2019, believing he would clean up the diocese and crack down on misbehaving clergy.

Those hopes were dashed, however, when Brennan proved uncooperative in a lawsuit involving alleged homopredator priest Msgr. Craig Harrison, accused by multiple males of sexual assault. Brady is the target of Harrison's defamation lawsuit, the priest claiming Brady defamed him when he reported on Harrison's alleged sexual misconduct.

Brady is fighting the suit, his attorneys issuing a subpoena to the Fresno diocese requesting diocesan files on Harrison. The diocese refused the request.

"It's unbelievable that this individual, with all he's been  through — they still keep bringing him back," Brady told Church Militant.

"The real crime in my opinion is when you look at the orthodox clergy who have been tossed out for the smallest incident, for incidents that are completely orthodox and legitimate, like burnng a gay flag or being a whistleblower," he added. "It's unreal."

"In my opinion, this really shows where the heart of the hierarchy is and it's not with Christ and his Church," he said.

Church Militant contacted Bp. Brennan, who responded with an official statement saying Lastiri is "on a period of probation" during which he's allowed to offer Mass and other sacraments.

"Fr. Lastiri has been on paid administrative leave since September 13, 2018 for reasons that did not involve allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor child or youth," the bishop clarified." Administrative leave can be imposed on a priest for several reasons. Those reasons are confidential and handled according to internal diocesan processes; they will not be disclosed or commented on for his privacy." 

Contact information for Bp. Joseph Brennan:
denise@dioceseoffresno.org
(559) 488-7400

The full letter follows:

 

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