June 19, 2019
A Visalia priest has been placed on paid administrative leave in the wake of a new report chronicling a history of sexual abuse within the Fresno Diocese of the Catholic church.
In a letter addressed to the “People of God,” Most Reverend Joseph V. Brennan, bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, announced that Father Eric Swearingen, pastor of the Good Shepherd Parish in Visalia, had been placed on paid leave as of June 5. The letter was read during both Sunday and Saturday mass at the parish’s four congregations at St. Charles Borromoeo, Holy Family, and St. Mary’s in Visalia, and St. Thomas The Apostle in Goshen. The parish also oversees George McCann Memorial, a kindergarten through eighth grade Catholic school, and the Bethlehem Center, a thrift store and food pantry.
“This action was necessary in light of detailed information associated with a civil case dating back to 2006 that was brought to my attention following a file review,” Most Rev. Brennan stated in the letter. “I am not able to offer further details.”
The civil case mentioned was a high profile lawsuit involving former altar boy Juan Rocha who accused Fr. Swearingen of sexually abusing him from 1989 to 1993 during the priest’s first assignment at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield, Calif. The jury found Fr. Swearingen guilty of child sexual abuse in a 9-3 vote but fell short of the nine votes required to find the Diocese of Fresno guilty of wrongdoing resulting in a mistrial. Instead of a retrial, Fr. Swearingen and Rocha entered a binding arbitration to settle the lawsuit, the terms of which remain undisclosed.
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