The Sun-Gazette [Exeter CA]
August 11, 2021
By Reggie Ellis
Catholic Diocese of Fresno releases its list of 37 priests accused of molesting minors in the Valley, 29 others who allegedly molested children elsewhere
FRESNO – For the first time ever, the Catholic Church in Fresno revealed serious allegations of priests molesting minors going back for a century.
On Aug. 6, the Catholic Diocese of Fresno released a list of more than 60 clergy with ties to the Valley “credibly accused” of sexual abuse involving a minor. In all of these cases, the victim was a minor at the time of the abuse, the alleged perpetrator was or is a bishop, priest, deacon, or religious brother or religious sister at the time of the alleged sexual abuse, and the allegations have been determined to be “more likely than not to have occurred.” No one on the list is currently serving in the Diocese of Fresno.
Most Rev. Joseph V. Brennan, Bishop of the Diocese of Fresno, said the list was meant to be part of an ongoing process of healing for the victims and the church in an Aug. 6 letter to his parishioners. He also said it will be a “living document” as new names may be added to the list as more information becomes available.
“I ask that you join me in imploring God’s mercy upon the Church and dispensing an abundance of graces for the healing of all victims of sexual abuse,” Brennan wrote. “The incidence of any sexual abuse of minors in the local Church is a tragedy, an evil that must not happen again. The Diocese of Fresno remains committed to the protection of its youth and ensuring that safeguards are followed rigorously.”
The list was compiled by Kinsale Management Consulting, which was retained by the diocese in May 2019 to investigate allegations going back to the early 1900s. Under the leadership of Dr. Kathleen McChesney, former executive assistant director of the FBI, the consulting firm reviewed over 2,800 clergy files to identify any priest, deacon, or members of a religious order with allegations of sexual abuse involving a minor within the territorial area of the current Diocese of Fresno. The firm identified 62 “credible” allegations of abuse.
Jeff Anderson, whose law firm has been representing victims in childhood sexual abuse cases since the 1980s, called the release “long overdue” and the “bare minimum step” to preventing children from being risk of horrific crimes.
“The delayed release of this list is long over-due and a thinly veiled attempt to stifle survivors and public scrutiny,” Anderson said. “Survivors have been waiting decades for accountability and transparency and they deserve more.”
The Diocese of Fresno has been named in multiple lawsuits for having employed sexually abusive priests since 2003, when the California legislature opened a one-year, retroactive window for survivors of child abuse to file civil claims against the perpetrators and the institutions that covered it up. The Diocese of Fresno was one of sixteen Catholic Dioceses in the United States which had neglected to publish a list of credibly accused clergy.
Jeff Anderson and Associates is based in St. Paul, Minn. but has regional offices in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has testified before legislators against individuals, youth service organizations, and churches. The firm has focused on clergy sexual abuse since 2002 when the Boston archdiocese was accused of ignoring years of warnings about priests accused of molesting 130 people, the focus of the 2015 Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight.” Anderson said the Fresno list did not include Fr. Anthony Moreno and Fr. Efren Neri, both of whom were publicly identified in lawsuits as alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse.
The list contains information about 37 priests, deacons, or members of a religious order, of which 24 were priests incardinated with the Diocese of Fresno, seven were extern priests (those ordained in one diocese but later worked in another), and six members religious orders, groups who take a vow of poverty and live with their religious brothers, such as a monastery or convent. A separate list of 29 clerics and members of religious orders are named who have no allegations of sexual abuse of a minor while they served in the Diocese of Fresno but were determined to have allegations against them occurring in other dioceses and are listed on other sources.
A HISTORY OF HARM
The allegations involve priests whose assignments in the Central Valley date back to as early as 1921 and as recent as 2019. The most recent with ties to Tulare County involved Rev. Eric V. Swearingen. Swearingen was ordained in the Diocese of Fresno in 1987 and spent his entire career in the Valley. He was placed on administrative leave by the church in June 2019 while being investigated for molestation from 1989 to 1993 during the priest’s first assignment at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield, Calif. The jury found 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, Swearingen and Rocha entered a binding arbitration to settle the lawsuit, the terms of which remain undisclosed.
Swearingen was named pastor of the Good Shepherd Catholic Parish in Visalia in 2014. It was a homecoming for the priest who grew up attending George McCann and graduated from Redwood High School in 1979. Swearingen was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2017 and took a medical leave of absence in 2018. He died in 2020.
In addition to Swearingen, priests ordained or incardinated in the Diocese of Fresno on the list include the following.
Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pacheco was ordained in 1957 and began his career in Randsburg, Calif. in Kern County. He served as an assistant at St. Aloysius and St. Rita in Tulare from 1961 to 1967, where alleged sexual abuse of children took place along with Sacred Heart in Merced in the 1960s, according to a 2003 civil suit. Filed long after Pacheco’s death in 1992, the lawsuit alleged the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno covered up the abuse. Bishop John J. Steinbock of the Fresno Diocese publicly apologized for the sexual abuse after the lawsuit was settled in 2006.
Rev. Msgr. Anthony Herdegen was ordained in 1946. He served as an assistant at Sacred Heart in Lindsay in 1948, an administrator at St. Anne’s in Porterville in 1953 and as the pastor there in 1980. He died in 2009.
Rev. John Boyle was ordained for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno in 1941. He served at St. Catherine of Siena in Dinuba from 1941 to 1944 and 1948 to 1952. He died in 1987.
Rev. Gerald Chavez was ordained for the Diocese of Fresno in 1973. He split time as pastor between Holy Family Church in New London and Santa Cruz Mission 1984-1988, parochial vicar at St. Anne in Porterville in 2010, and served as sacramental priest at St. Aloysius in Tulare in 2014. He died in 2020.
Rev. Benjamin S. Gabriel was ordained for the Archdiocese of Lipa, Philippines in 1945 and incardinated for the Diocese of Fresno in 1979. He served in supply ministry at St. Catherine of Siena in 1971, an administrator at St. Jude in Earlimart in 1973 and as an administrator there in 1984. He died two years later in 1986.
Some priests disappeared after having their duties suspended or revoked within the Diocese of Fresno.
The dioceses says it does not know the whereabouts of Rev. Louis Garcia, who suspended his duties with the church in 1981. Garcia served as parochial vicar at St. Anne in Porterville and also served as chaplain at the Porterville State Hospital in 1979.
The diocese presumes Rev. Jose Luis Vega Sanchez is alive and living in Mexico, where he retired to in 2004. Vega Sanchez was ordained in the Diocese of Tulancingo, Mexico in 1954 and incardinated into the Diocese of Fresno in 1990. From 1996 to 2004, he was pastor at St. Mary’s in Cutler.
Rev. John J. Gaynor was ordained in the diocese in 1935 and began his work as an associate at St. Mary in Visalia later that year. Five years later his faculties in the clergy were revoked. He left the diocese without permission in 1941 and his whereabouts were unknown. The diocese was able to confirm he died in 1953.
Rev. John Naldoza Nacauili was ordained with the Archdiocese of Jaro, Philippines in 1961 and incardinated in the Fresno diocese in 1976. He began his work in the Valley as an associate pastor at Holy Family in Visalia from 1972 to 1975 but also spent time as an associate pastor at St. Francis of Cabrini in Woodlake from 1986 to 1990. He took a brief leave of absence for illness in 1990. He returned to work briefly in 1991 as an administrator at St. Jude in Earlimart and Huron before leaving the dioceses and returning to the Philippines citing poor health later that year.
Rev. Edward Haskins died in 1981 while living at the Nazareth House, a Catholic assisted living community owned and operated by the Sisters of Nazareth in Fresno. He was ordained in 1933 with his first faculty as an Army chaplain in 1940 and later that year served at Sacred Heart in Lindsay. He retired in 1974. Haskins’ name is also on a similar list with the Diocese of Monterey, as Fresno and Monterey used to be a single diocese before splitting in 1967.
The following are extern priests who belonged to a religious order but served in the Diocese of Fresno during the time of the alleged abuse. Rev. William Allison was ordained in the Diocese of Alexandria, La. in 1948. He first came to the Valley in 1964 when he served as a supply priest at St. Catherine of Siena in Dinuba. He is not only on the list for the Fresno and Monterey dioceses, which used to be one, but also the Archdiocese of Gallup, NM and his original diocese in Alexandria, La. He died in 1967.
“Some members of the family—priests, deacons, and religious in positions of trust and leadership—have behaved badly. That is putting it mildly,” Brennan wrote. “Let’s face it, acts of abuse upon the innocent and vulnerable are truly evil, plain and simple. The pain, suffering, betrayal, and loss of innocence felt by many victims lasts a lifetime.”
ALLEGATIONS FROM AFAR
The following priests served or lived in the Fresno Diocese and have alleged sexual abuses against minors in other dioceses but are not facing any allegations from their time in Fresno.
Bro. Samuel Cabot, who died in 2019, served at St. Anthony’s Retreat Center in Three Rivers from 1971 to 1972 but allegations stem from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Rev. Stuart B. Campbell, who died in 1986, has a long list of allegations across the country including in Nevada, Ohio, Kentucky, and Los Angeles but none from his time as parochial vicar at St. Anne’s in Porterville in 1954. Brother Gerald Chumik also served at St. Anthony’s Retreat from 1985 to 1986 and again from 1997 to 2003, but his allegations are based in Santa Barbara. Brother Felix “Raymond” Calonge left the Order of Friars Minor in 1966 following a one-year stint at St. Anthony’s Retreat. A 2018 report alleged that Calonge sexually abused a minor in 1965, just before his arrival in Three Rivers. His current whereabouts and whether he has access to children are unknown.
Rev. Msgr. Gilbert Meyer was ordained in the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno in 1942 and was pastor at Sacred Heart in Lindsay from 1976 to 1969. He spent most of his career in the Valley with the exception of his time as pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption in Watsonville, Calif. from 1953 to 1967. He is on the list for alleged abuse in the Monterey Diocese, which includes Watsonville, but is not facing any allegations in the Diocese of Fresno. He retired in 1990 and died in 2020.
Rev. David Johnson was at St. Anthony’s Retreat from 1992 to 2000 but faces allegations from his time in Seattle, Oakland and Santa Barbara after he left the Fresno Diocese in 2000. In 2019, he was named in the “List of Franciscan Friars from the St. Barbara Province with Credibly (sic) Claims of Sexual Abuse of a Minor” in the section, “Former Province of St. Barbara Friars Who Have Been Credibly Accused Who Have Left The Order.” He has been named in five civil suits alleging sexual abuse of minors, all of the allegations going back to between 1978 and 1982, before his assignment in Three Rivers. He left the Diocese of Fresno in 2000 and was laicized, meaning he requested to be released from his vows and duties with the church. As of 2016, Fr. Johnson was believed to be living in Hurricane, Utah. Whether he has access to children is unknown.
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter sets clear procedures for addressing clergy sexual abuse and for safeguarding the young and vulnerable. It includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse and serves as the basis for our own Diocesan policies and procedures.
The Diocese of Fresno said it conducts thorough background checks, including fingerprinting, for all diocesan personnel, such as clergy and staff, and those who come into contact with young people. The diocese requires every clergy member, anyone training to become a clergy member, as well as any employee or volunteer, to be thoroughly trained in recognizing and preventing child abuse and creating safe environments.
The dioceses did say priests who are still alive are entitled to pensions and benefits in compliance with the Priest Retirement Fund Bylaws. The cost for those pension and benefits are not paid for by parishioners.
If you suspect someone you know has been abused, you should report the incident to law enforcement nearest to the location of the incident. The church also encourages those coming forward to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator in Fresno at 559-488-7400.
“The legacy of clergy sexual abuse will be with us always and we must be constantly vigilant to prevent abuse and identify abuse when it happens,” the diocese states online. “We continue to pray for the survivors of sexual abuse. We must always seek to improve how we protect the young and vulnerable and be worthy of the trust placed in us by the People of God.”