Former San Joaquin priest pleads no contest to sexual assault charges

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A former priest of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, Jesus Antonio Serna, has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in Fresno over charges he sexually assaulted members of his parish.

Serna, 56, entered a plea of no contest to nine counts of sexual assault and one count of witness tampering. Twelve other counts of assault will be dismissed. In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek a possible 26 year sentence, but have agreed to a sentence of no more than ten years in prison.

In February 2019 Serna was arrested by police and charged with 26 counts of sexual assault. He was accused of assaulting male members of his congregation, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church in Fresno. He told his victims that by fondling their genitals he was performing a spiritual ritual to drive away evil. 

The Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin relieved Serna of his pastoral and priestly ministry in October 2017 after the Rt. Rev. Eric Menees received credible information that Serna had committed sexual misconduct. Serna was officially dismissed from the ministry on 24 Nov 2017, and the diocese has cooperated with police in their investigations.

Serna will appear before a Fresno court on April 12 for sentencing. His trial has been delayed due to the COVID pandemic, and the departure from the area of some of his victims, many of whom were illegal aliens, reluctant to involve themselves with the police. Nov. 24, 2017.

The Fresno Bee reported that Prosecutor Kelly Smith wrote in her pleading to the court: “Defendant deserves no mercy from this Court, from his victims, from the public, or from his remaining parishioners that were and are sadly fooled by this wolf in sheep’s clothing  … Defendant shattered the lives of 10 parishioners, many of whom will never be able to trust any figure of authority within a church setting again.”