Ex-pastor pleads not guilty in porn case

Robert Gamel

A Catholic priest who has been charged with possession of child pornography pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Los Banos on Friday.

The Rev. Robert Gamel stood next to his attorney in Merced Superior Court and declared he was not guilty of a felony count of possession of matter depicting sexual conduct of a person under the age of 18.

If convicted, Gamel faces up to three years in jail or prison. Judge Harry Jacobs set Gamel’s next court appearance, a pre-preliminary hearing, for July 29 at 1:30 p.m.

Gamel, 64, was arrested June 10, following a 10-month investigation by the Los Banos Police Department.

In August, church officials told police the then-pastor of Los Banos’ St. Joseph’s Catholic Church may have obtained nude photographs of a teenage parishioner through the Internet, according to court rec-ords.

According to a search warrant affidavit, Gamel told other priests he had sought out nude photographs of the teenage boy, possibly from a social networking website. Gamel “bragged” to several people “about (his) anonymous Instagram account and how none of them would ever suspect who he was on Instagram,” the affidavit says.

The Rev. Guadalupe Rios told police that Gamel had informed him “that (the teenager) had posted nude photographs of himself on the Internet and that Gamel had located the photos and seen them firsthand.”

Gamel, who is commonly known around Los Banos as “Father Bob,” was removed from the church rectory on Center Avenue to a location where he reportedly ministered to senior citizens. Gamel is no longer working in the ministry pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Gamel’s attorney, Roger Litman, said his client, who is free on bond, has stayed in Los Banos to fight the allegations and is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

Litman said he is uncertain if the case will go to trial.