January 22, 2020
By James Ward
Rev. Eric Swearingen, a Tulare County native who rose through the church’s hierarchy to lead Visalia’s Catholics despite an allegation of sexual abuse, died on Jan. 18 at 58 after a long illness.
Swearingen, who was named head pastor over Visalia’s four Catholic congregations, George McCann School and the Bethlehem Center in 2014, was put on administrative leave in June 2019 after Bishop Joseph Brennan received more information about a civil case dating back to 2006 in which Swearingen was sued by an ex-altar boy for alleged sexual abuse. The boy said the alleged abuse by Swearingen occurred in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
No criminal charges were ever filed in that case but a civil jury ruled that Swearingen did abuse the victim. The lawsuit required that the jury find the abuse happened and that the diocese did not have any prior knowledge of the incident.
Because of the split decision, the judge ruled the case a mistrial. A second trial was scheduled, but the two sides agreed to binding arbitration well before the court date — a settlement that both sides agreed to keep private.
Brennan and the church did not reveal what additional information led to Swearingen’s 2019 administrative leave decision.