Skip to comments.Baca and the Bear (The Dark Side of the Fresno Diocese)
Posted on 08/30/2004 1:01:48 PM PDT by B Knotts
Father Joe Baca's path to ordination was difficult. Three times a seminarian at St. John's in Camarillo, Baca was three times shown the door for his "rigidness." Finally, Father Baca was accepted into the diocese of Fresno by Bishop John Steinbock and ordained on December 1, 2001 after completing his seminary training in Wisconsin.
Father Baca's problems didn't end with his ordination. After starting at St. Patrick's parish in Merced, he was sent to Sacred Heart parish in Fresno on December 13, 2001, filling in for a pastor who had died suddenly. On March 1, 2002, he was sent to St. Anthony's in Fresno, where he was supposed to remain three years; but his time was cut short at 13 months after he gave a homily on the Church's just war theory using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as his source. The homily contradicted some points Bishop Steinbock had made in a letter to the diocese, and Father Baca was forced to apologize, then was suspended. He was re-assigned to St. Patrick's parish in Merced on June 1, 2003.
(Excerpt) Read more at losangelesmission.com ...
Check out the sidebar with the chancery phone call.
Lots of good info here.
This bishop is a disgrace IMO.
God save us from the false shepherds and their evil minions.
Father Baca is a hero.
The dark side of Fresno is no darker than Milwaukee...
Father Joe Bacas path to ordination was difficult. Three times a seminarian at St. Johns in Camarillo, Baca was three times shown the door for his rigidness. Finally, Father Baca was accepted into the diocese of Fresno by Bishop John Steinbock and ordained on December 1, 2001 after completing his seminary training in Wisconsin.
Father Bacas problems didnt end with his ordination. After starting at St. Patricks parish in Merced, he was sent to Sacred Heart parish in Fresno on December 13, 2001, filling in for a pastor who had died suddenly. On March 1, 2002, he was sent to St. Anthonys in Fresno, where he was supposed to remain three years; but his time was cut short at 13 months after he gave a homily on the Churchs just war theory using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as his source. The homily contradicted some points Bishop Steinbock had made in a letter to the diocese, and Father Baca was forced to apologize, then was suspended. He was re-assigned to St. Patricks parish in Merced on June 1, 2003.
At St. Patricks, Father Baca found a divided parish. Many parishioners began flocking to Father Bacas Masses, where he eliminated the use of inclusive language and gave homilies on the Churchs positions on hell, abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, womens ordination, and pro-life voting responsibilities. Father Baca began a catechism class that grew so popular that, after three weeks, there was not enough room for everyone. Penitents began returning to the sacrament of confession. According to one parishioner, Dr. Robert Butler, a Merced physician, physicians and support staff at the local hospitals were pleased when they saw the ease with which Father Baca could be contacted and summoned to sick calls, whether it was his assigned day or not.
While many parishioners welcomed the change, not all were pleased and these included parish administrator Jean Smith and pastor Father Jean-Michael Lastiri. While I saw numerous copies of letters from parishioners thanking Father Baca and/or Bishop Steinbock for the solid Catholic teaching and more reverent liturgies, two letters from disgruntled parishioners complain about Father Baca. The first letter, an e-mail dated September 12, 2003, from a Church musician to Father Lastiri, complained that Father Baca had deeply offended her as a musician and a humanitarian.
The letter said: [Father Baca] has now forbidden the congregation to clap after the songs they enjoy hearing. People have a right to express their emotions, especially in Gods house.... He has decided to take a decidedly negative stance on homosexuality and the Church ... last time I looked in the dictionary, catholic meant universal and my two best friends in the world, great humanitarians both and one a very recent Catholic convert, are gay.... I am very upset right now and I feel frustrated, because as a parishioner, whenever I go to one of Joes Masses, Im in a captive audience that is forced to endure his ultra-conservative talk. I think he needs to realize that hes talking to everyone, and we all see things differently, and his way, his Church way, is one way, but not the only way.... Im not going to be attending any of his Masses until he starts to realize that he needs to be a bit more catholic in his homilies.
The other negative letter, dated October 3, 2003, came from a local teacher and was addressed to Father Baca. The letter writer expresses her offense that Baca dare discuss eternal consequences at Mass. Your expressions, she wrote, bring me back to my childhood in the Ireland of the 1940s and 50s in which compliance was the norm and if God meant anything, it was that He was a hard taskmaster.... I find it offensive that you find it so necessary to constantly reinforce the concepts of mortal sin and hell.
The one parishioner Father Baca could not afford to offend was the parish administrator, Jean Smith. Circumstances came to a head on September 24, 2003, while Father Lastiri was away in Tahiti. A member of the office staff told Father Baca that his shipment of copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for his catechism class had arrived and that the parish intended to charge class members $20 a copy. Father Baca had told class members that they only needed to pay $17 per copy. Father Baca asked Smith why the book was being marked up and was told, the parish needs to make some money off this.
In a confidential memo to Smith, Father Baca expressed his concerns about how she handled the incident. He specifically mentioned that he was not consulted or notified about the price change, that Smith refused to look at him during their discussion, that Smith took an argumentative and disrespectful tone toward him in front of other staff members, and that she angrily instructed a staff member to reinstate the $17 price.
I called Jean Smith about this incident. I am not going to speak to you about it, she told me. When I asked about her dealings with Father Baca, Smith said, I dont think I need to talk to you about that. Thats something in the past.
Although Father Baca was not aware at the time, he was in charge of the parish in the pastors absence and would have been well within his rights to suspend Smith on the spot for insubordination. Instead, he filed a formal charge of insubordination with Pat Gordon, the Fresno dioceses director of human resources. In his September 28 memo to Gordon, Father Baca noted that after he had taken $200 from his personal bank account to pay rebates to class members, Smith instructed the office staff to ignore his instruction to pay the rebates. Smith also told staff members that she had spoken to Father Lastiri and that any further instructions of Father Bacas were to be ignored. Smith told staff members that Father Baca was trying to divide the parish.
That same day, the two front office secretaries, Denise Cisneros (who had been at the parish over 13 years) and Eleanor Moreno (six years) presented letters of resignation, both complaining of their treatment at the hands of Smith, both specifically mentioning Smiths angry outbursts. According to Cisneros, the day of the book problem, the day we quit, I heard Jean in the other room talking so rudely and I looked to see who it was she was talking to, and it was Father Baca. I couldnt believe it. And it was all Jean. Father Baca hardly made a peep. You couldnt even hear his voice. Everyone got along so well with Father Baca, even when he was here as a deacon.
In an October 2 letter to Bishop Steinbock, Father Lastiri complained that Father Baca had difficulty controlling his anger, that he felt Father Baca was trying to correct my failings, and that a campaign of letter writing to the bishops office had begun since Father Bacas arrival. I strongly feel that a sense of disunity will grow, of which we have never seen before if the present situation continues. I have had four parochial vicars here, with Father Baca being the fifth, and never have I experienced such discontentment among the People of God. Thus I have no other option but to ask that Father Baca leave the parish immediately before this weekend. I will relieve him of any further duties as parochial vicar until he meets with you.
The only specific complaint Father Lastiri made involved an incident where Father Baca removed a computer from his office and put in the back room because he was having difficulty with it. I was there the day that happened and Father Lastiri was not, said Moreno. Father Lastiri wanted everyone to use a computerized voice mail system, and after Father Baca put the computer away, he [Lastiri] told Eleanor and me both that we were not to take any messages for Father Baca.
In his letter to the bishop, Father Lastiri neglected to mention that the discontent at the parish had been festering long before Father Bacas arrival. Letters from parishioners dating back as far as February 1996 document complaints to Father Lastiri for using unauthorized inclusive language at Mass, starting a parish homosexual support group, preaching pro-homosexual sermons, and, particularly, allowing pro-abortion congressman Dennis Cardozo to speak at the parishs 75th Anniversary Mass in October 2002. To a letter from one parishioner expressing his unease about the trend of clericalization of the laity, Father Lastiri replied, the problem with all of this is the Vaticans refusal to re-examine the priesthood, causing dangerously low numbers of priests, forcing bishops to make lay people in charge of parishes, and it goes down from there.
On October 3, Bishop Steinbock sent a letter to Father Baca removing him from his parish assignment and informing Baca that I cannot entrust you to the care of souls until I hear you are dealing with this inner anger, for the good of Gods people. Steinbock goes on to offer Father Baca the option of prison ministry, hospital ministry or leaving for a religious order, but only after attending an anger management program for priests.
If Father Lastiri thought his parish was divided before, Father Bacas dismissal only intensified the rift. At the October 5, 2003 Masses, no mention was made of Father Baca leaving the parish. The October 12 parish bulletin announced: Bishop John Steinbock has reassigned Father Joe Baca as he will enter a Pastoral Program to enhance his ministerial skills for further service to the diocese. Evidently, Father Lastiri was already taking heat for the move, as the announcement also said, rumors of firing and the like are nonsense and actually quite silly, as if we would fire a priest. After his Masses that day, Father Lastiri announced from the pulpit that Father Baca had requested his transfer from the parish and had agreed to attend anger management classes.
Fed up, nineteen parishioners signed a letter to Bishop Steinbock (with copies sent to the cardinal prefects of four Vatican congregations) detailing their dissatisfaction with the leadership of their parish. The letter also asked several pointed questions about sexual misconduct of priests, dissenting opinions preached at Mass, inappropriate sex education in the Catholic schools, and possible violations of the seal of confession. The letter ended by warning Steinbock that they would withhold funds from their parish and from the diocese if he refused to meet with them and if appropriate action were not taken to correct the situation by staffing their parish with Catholic Clergy, Religious and Laity with an undaunted fidelity to the Magisterium. Bishop Steinbock replied, I have no idea what you are talking about in the Diocese of Fresno with your many general condemnations and statement of investigations of clergy sexual abuse within the Diocese, when there is no known abuse to my knowledge whatsoever. Your condemnatory letter is more scandalous than the many general matters you condemn in your letter... .I certainly do not see in your letter the teaching and truth of Jesus Christ. I can only call on you and those who signed such a scandalous letter to conversion to ask Gods pardon and the pardon of your pastor whom you defame so maliciously....
Bishop Steinbock and Father Lastiri may have had more at stake than saving face about a bad decision. Parishioners at St. Patricks were alarmed when the June 2, 2002 Fresno Bee published an interview with a homosexual priest using the pseudonym Father Henry. Father Henry admits his attraction to males as well as his deviations from the vow of chastity: Ive slipped a few times. The story quotes another Fresno priest, Father Jerry Amerando, saying that the bishop, doesnt consider this an issue. It also quotes Bishop Steinbock on his tolerance of homosexual clergy: A priest, no matter what his orientation, can be a good, loving priest.
Among the concerned parishioners at St. Patricks was Thomas Walsh. Now 78, Walsh spent 27 years with the FBI and another 15 years as a private investigator. On October 3, 2003 the same day Bishop Steinbock dismissed Father Baca Walsh sent a letter to Bishop Steinbock informing him that he and other parishioners had been investigating priests in the diocese and had identified six as possible sodomites. In the letter, Walsh informs Bishop Steinbock that a convicted felon, Joe Banuelos, lived for two years (1989-1991) at St. Thomas Catholic Church in Goshen and Holy Family Catholic Church in Visalia, where he worked as a volunteer with no salary. Banuelos was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor, a six-year boy, on church grounds. He was sentenced to six years in prison. Who was his employer at these churches? Father Lastiri.
Including court records as proof with his letter, Walsh gave Bishop Steinbock all the details of the case, including a detailed report from Detective Mike Montejano regarding the search of Banuelos residence at the parish. Among the items found were condoms, sex toys, womens underwear, 53 hard-core pornographic magazines, and framed photos and a card to Banuelos from Father Lastiri, among other things.
On October 7, Walsh distributed a flyer to parishioners detailing Father Lastiris relationship with Banuelos and suggesting that parishioners withhold financial support until the diocese take action. On October 10, Bishop Steinbock wrote a letter denying the charges in the flyer and accusing the parishioners who produced it of hate. After a meeting with parishioners on October 15, Father Lastiri had the letters removed from the bulletins and shredded. On October 27, Bishop Steinbock wrote Walsh accusing him of sending court records that presented rumor and gossip. The bishop enclosed an excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning defamation of character, suggesting Walsh reflect on it seriously. Walsh responded by writing Steinbock that the information was neither rumor nor gossip but had been referred to by the district attorney as the testimony of several witnesses.
If Father Bacas presence did not initiate Father Lastiris troubles, his departure did not end them. In early July, 2004, some parishioners discovered discarded instant messages to and from Father Lastiri printed on the parish letterhead. After using the information to do an AOL internet search, they discovered a homosexual mens website, www.bear411.com, and buddybear.net, where Father Lastiri had posted his own picture and profile, using the name basqueoso. Many of the profile photos at the site show explicit poses of naked men, but Lastiris showed him dressed in lay clothes, and he described his profession as counseling. The site also had 60 pages of messages, profiles, and e-mails exchanged between Father Lastiri and various members of the bear group, including information on trips Lastiri had made to Amsterdam, Florida, New Orleans, Huntington Beach, and Las Vegas. The last message posted by Lastiri was July 13.
On July 14, parishioners made the information public and presented it to Bishop Steinbock. The bishop quietly removed Lastiri from the parish. On July 16, in a statement appearing in the Modesto Bee, Bishop Steinbock said he had received information regarding a Web page and chat room of Rev. Jean-Michael Lastiri that was totally inappropriate. The bishop said he spoke to Lastiri the very next day, July 15; Lastiri denied any inappropriate sexual activity on his part and declared that he only entertained fantasies through this activity on the Internet.
Steinbock said he realized Lastiris behavior was compulsive and addictive. The bishop announced he was removing Father Lastiri from St. Patricks parish and sending him to St. Lukes Institute for appropriate psychological and spiritual counseling and appropriate therapy to help him deal with this problem.
Fr. Lastiri apologizes for any pain he has caused the community and wishes to seek the appropriate help to overcome his compulsive behavior so that he may return, with Gods grace, to full ministry as a good and faithful priest, wrote Bishop Steinbock.
THATS NOT ACCURATE
Bishop Steinbock deferred all questions about Fathers Baca and Lastiri to diocesan communications director William Lucido. When I spoke to him in July, Lucido refused to discuss the reasons for Father Bacas dismissal and a previous disciplinary action against him at St. Anthonys, where Baca was allegedly suspended after preaching a homily that contradicted some points Steinbock had published with regard to a just war. I dont know that thats true, Lucido said. The remainder of our conversation follows.
We do know that Father Baca was suspended.
Lucido: I dont concede that he was suspended.
Was Father Lastiri frequently absent from the parish?
I dont know. He doesnt report in to us of when hes there and when hes not there. He fulfilled his role as pastor.
A number of parishioners complained that Lastiri was gone a lot on pilgrimages to places like Las Vegas and San Francisco. But Father Baca, I have been told, was a good priest. Im told he was popular, he had a well-attended catechism class, people began returning to confession in droves, and he gave solid instruction in his homilies. Given all these good reports, why was the diocese dissatisfied with him?
I dont know that the diocese was dissatisfied with him.
But he was taken out of St. Patricks parish and placed on indefinite leave. Is there another reason why he was?
Well, thats between him and his bishop.
Do you know what procedures Bishop Steinbock followed to determine whether Father Baca had any inner anger problems? Or was his decision based solely on Father Lastiris testimony?
No I dont know. I know Bishop Steinbock, and I know he would investigate something completely.
Do you think the recent unveiling of Father Lastiri as one who frequents sexually explicit homosexual websites sheds any light on this controversy with Father Baca?
I cannot accept that question. Youre making a statement, and if I answer it, I give credence to the statement that youre making inside the question. I will not do that.
Well, Ive spoken with a lot of parishioners at St. Patricks and this was months ago, before any of this information on Lastiri broke who had grave suspicions about Father Lastiri living a double life. In his book Goodbye Good Men, Michael Rose makes the case that there is a direct connection between dioceses that abandon orthodoxy and tradition and the rise of the homosexual underground in the priesthood. Further, he asserts that when the homosexual underground detects anyone who has any sympathies with orthodoxy and tradition, it will stop at nothing to get rid of that person. There are many parishioners at St. Patricks who believe that Father Baca was victimized for that very reason.
[Noticeably annoyed] I wouldnt say thats accurate.
We do know that Father Lastiri was frequenting homosexual websites, and that he posted himself with a photo on one of them. He obviously had some kind of personal interest in that lifestyle, and he certainly seemed threatened by Father Baca, given what weve heard from other parishioners.
I dont think youve got the whole story, because there are other parishioners who say other things. Quite a group of parishioners up there support Father Lastiri and hope that he gets the help that he needs so that he come back and be a good priest.
Forgiveness and getting help arent the only issues. Can Lastiri be trusted again? Do you think its safe to trust someone with a history like Lastiris to practice parish ministry again?
Youre asking the judgment of professionals who would advise Father Lastiri, and the bishop and Im not one of those professionals.
It is not known whether or not Father Lastiri left immediately for St. Lukes, as one of his last message exchanges indicated plans to attend several homosexual events during the last week of July in Orlando, Florida. Lucido conceded that he did not know of Lastiris whereabouts during that week, but that he was, sure that the bishop knew.
The Lavendar Mafia uses the tactics of the old Soviet Union. When the Reds realized it was no longer prudent to just kill desenters they labeled them as mentally ill and sent them away for re-education, just as this pathetic pervert and his partner-in-crime Bishop did to the good priest.
Meanwhile the anit-God homo infiltrator is using parishioner's money for sex romps to Las Vegas.
Merced Pastor in Fresno Diocese trolls for male sex partners on the Internet. His bishop defends him as a "good and dedicated priest...living a chaste and faithful life" and attacks priest's accusers as "maliciously" committing a "grave sin against justice."
(Warning: portions contain graphic and offensive photos)
We need to send another donation to RCF.
Uhhhh! I'm not going to click that link sister, your HTML markup is all I want to see.
LOL...that was also my reaction!
Yes, we do need more like Fr. Baca. Unfortunately, I think a bishop can pretty much keep a priest he dislikes from moving to another diocese.
Interesting -- yester L. A. and Orange -- today Fresno.........
Interesting -- yesterday L. A. and Orange -- today Fresno.........
(Don't you just hate it when the mind goes faster than the fingers? LOL!
While cruising with my cart through the Fresh Produce section of the supermarket on Saturday, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a familiar face walking towards me. Khaki slacks, white short sleeved sports shirt, a slight sway of the hips - it was the pastor from my former RC parish. Recognizing me, he walked over. I politely asked how he was doing and was treated to a 10 minute dialogue on his most recent weekend trip to the family camp in the Adirondacks. I noted that the parking lot at his parish was growing and he assured me that this was necessary to accomodate the overflow crowds on weekends. He never inquired about me or my daughter, nor did he even ask which parish we now attended. It was all about "him".
I couldn't help but contrast that with the pastor at our Maronite Church. Saturday will find him with a spade digging out the wells around the church, or raking up rocks, tearing down old sheds, and simply working on restoring a dilapidated old church for his congregation. After 6 hours of intense labor, he is usually covered with dust and dripping with perspiration. This is the ONLY time you will ever see him in anything but his Roman collar. In 3 years, he has not had one vacation. After the Divine Liturgy, he makes the rounds at the back of the church, checking on each parishioner, inquiring about their needs and offering up prayers for their intentions. His sermons directly address Christ as our Savior, a compassionate God but one who will mete out justice. His parking lot is small and half empty.
I don't understand why the situation is not reversed. This good priest shepherds his flock while the other one leads them astray. As today's gospel reminds us, Jesus was rejected by the Jews in his home town because He preached the Truth. Nothing has changed.
It's been as such many times throughout history, where the worldly are welcomed and embraced while the Godly are neglected or persecuted. Our pain today is minimal compared to the martyrs who've come before us.
Evil bureaucrats would proclaim "where is your God" as they were having women's breasts cut off. The worldly nailed the Son of God to a piece of wood, while he prayed to His Father for to forgive them. This was the supreme example for all Christians (one that most of us can't come close to living emulating) and the epitome of injustice.
The wonderful thing about it is that God somehow turns these injustices and sacrifices into great fruit, although we don't always realize it at the time. Jesus went on to fulfill the prophecies and changed life as we know it, right down to how we count time. These martyrs deaths were not in vain, their short time on this earth had infinite purpose.
Know that your father's good works will not be in vain, niether will yours.
All this being said, I honestly feel your pain NYer. As humans witnessing it can be a very bitter pill.
It constantly amazes me that good priests like Fr. Baca are treated like pariahs for trying to be real Catholic priests, that they are harassed, suspended, and suppressed by "leaders." NYer, your fine priest is a fine example of what a priest should be.
I look at how those like Fr. Baca are treated and each incident like this increases my sympathy for the traditionalists. It makes me wonder more and more if what the tradtionalists are saying has a lot of truth and merit. I happen to go to a fine conservative N.O. parish with excellent priests - for which I am very thankful. I want to strive to be a good and faithful Catholic. Every incident where a "bishop" (aided by AmChurch CINOs) kicks out a fine priest and sides with the CINOs makes me wonder more and more about whether many of our "leaders" are Catholic and Christian or what. Each time something like this happens to a good priest, and there is seemingly little or no action done by higher ups to correct the stifling of a good priest, troubles me, and is a source of scandal to this new convert.