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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

SNAP Press Release

For immediate release: Thursday, Dec. 9

For more information: David Clohessy 314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com

Victims appeal to new Fresno diocese head

“Oust priest deemed guilty by jury,” SNAP says

They also prod Pope Benedict on new bishop appointment

“Don’t pick a new prelate from LA archdiocese,” group begs

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging the new head of the Fresno Catholic diocese to suspend a priest who was found by a jury to have molested a boy but still heads a local parish.

Leaders of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) are writing Monsignor Myron J. Cotta about Fr. Eric Swearingen, who leads Holy Spirit Church in Fresno. (Cotta has temporarily taken over the Fresno Diocese in the wake of Bishop John Steinbock’s recent death.)

In 2006, after hearing witnesses and examining evidence during a civil trial, a jury voted 9-3 that Swearingen was "more than likely" to have abused A former altar boy when the child was between 12 and 15 years old.

Technically, the trial ended in a hung jury because jurors could not agree on whether or not the Diocese of Fresno knew about Swearingen’s abusive propensities before he molested the victim.

Swearingen now pastors Holy Spirit Church in Fresno where he oversees youth ministry.http://www.holyspiritfresno.catholicweb.com/

In a letter sent to Cotta today, SNAP leaders called Swearingen’s assignment “extremely risky.”

“Err on the side of children’s safety and remove Swearingen from his post,” said SNAP’s letter.

SNAP made similar points in a 2007 letter to Steinbock: "An unbiased jury of Swearingen's peers spent days listening to witnesses and considering evidence. The jurors found Swearingen guilty, yet you decide to play Russian roulette with kids' lives and put a proven predator where he can have unfettered access to kids. Why take this reckless and callous risk?”

SNAP wants Cotta to suspend Swearingen and send notices to all Fresno churches urging anyone who might have evidence that could prove or disprove the allegations against him to speak up.

“There should be no doubt that Swearingen is guilty. An open, unbiased, time-tested justice system decisively reached that conclusion four years ago,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s director. “But if anyone has even a tiny doubt, the quickest way to resolve it is to publicly and emphatically beg others with relevant knowledge to step forward.”

“We know Cotta is essentially a temporary ‘caretaker’ and can’t make the kinds of sweeping, permanent reforms the diocese needs to really protect children,” said Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director. “But we believe he certainly has the power - indeed, the duty – to move one proven predator away from vulnerable children.”

Even if Cotta is unsure of his authority, SNAP believes he should act.

“Hundreds of bishops have moved slowly and timidly – or not at all – erring on the side of protecting the accused over protecting the accusers,” said Clohessy. “Frankly, it would be thrilling to see one church official move quickly and decisively, erring on the side of protecting multiple innocent kids over one proven predator.”

In March, a National Public Radio report that aired across the US featured the Swearingen case:

"Bishop Steinbock continues Swearingen in ministry to this day, choosing to believe the priest is innocent, choosing to protect the priest, and choosing to disregard entirely the judicial finding by a jury that found he had committed the crime of sexual abuse against Juan," says Rocha's attorney, Jeffrey Anderson.

Today, Swearingen serves as priest at Holy Spirit parish in Fresno, where he also oversees the youth ministry. Swearingen did not return phone calls, and Steinbock declined requests for an interview."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125420225

SNAP is also planning to write Pope Benedict and urge him to pick a new bishop from outside of the Los Angeles archdiocese.

“Historically, many LA area Catholic officials get promoted to head California dioceses,” said Clohessy. “But given the extent of clergy sex crimes and cover ups in LA, we feel it would rub salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of hundreds of LA victims and thousands of LA Catholics to reward an LA cleric with a promotion like this.”

A copy of SNAP’s letter to Cotta, sent today by fax and e mail, is below:

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259, Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell, SNAPdorris@gmail.com)

***********

Dec. 9, 2010

Dear Msgr.Cotta:

Enclosed is a letter we wrote to Bishop Steinbock in 2007. We stand by everything we said in it. We believe, now more than ever, that for the safety of children, Fr. Eric Swearingen should be ousted from ministry. Having him in a parish, especially in charge of youth ministry, is extremely risky and there’s no justification for such recklessness.

Recall, if you will, the Pope’s clear pledge this summer to “do everything possible” to prevent future clergy sex crimes. If you truly honor the Holy Father (and the findings of an impartial Fresno jury), you will err on the side of children’s safety and remove Swearingen from his post.

You are now, temporarily, in charge of the diocese. You can’t blame others for past misdeeds or carelessness or callousness regarding Swearingen. If he molests a child today, tomorrow, or in the years ahead, the blame will fall squarely on you.

We ask you to be guided by common sense, common decency, compassion towards kids and by the Pope’s words, not by your predecessor’s error. Please, for the safety of children, suspend Swearingen from this parish.

Joelle Casteix, Southwest Regional Director, SNAP, 949-322-7434, jcasteix@gmail.com

David Clohessy, SNAP Director, 314-566-9790, snapclohessy@aol.com

December 28, 2007

Dear Bishop Steinbock,

We are members of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. We have written you several times in the past, imploring you to protect kids, remove molesters from ministry, and to release any and all documents about sexual abuse in your diocese.

But we believe that this letter may be the most important one we have ever written you.

This month, you appointed Fr. Eric Swearingen as the new rector at San Joaquin Memorial High School. This is the same Eric Swearingen who was found by a civil jury (after days of hearing witnesses and examining evidence) to have "more than likely" to have abused Juan Rocha. Your actions are dangerous, reckless, and simply astounding.

Would you hire a janitor who "more than likely" shot people with a semi-automatic machine gun?

Would you appoint a teacher who "more than likely" abused drugs and showed up to work drunk?

Would you appoint a CFO who "more than likely" embezzled millions of dollars?

So why take such a horrible risk with the most innocent members of your flock? Do they not deserve the same respect as your bank account?

A wounded member of the elite armed forces took appropriate legal action and an unbiased jury of Swearingen's peers spent days hearing witnesses and examining evidence. The jurors found Swearingen guilty, yet you decide to play Russian roulette with kids' lives and put a proven predator where he can have unfettered access to kids. Why take this reckless and callous risk?

This appointment is even more disturbing in light of last summer's events regarding school dean Marcus Rodriguez. So, we not only have an administrator who is cultivating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, but now the religious leader of the school is a credibly accused abuser himself.

We ask that you immediately do the following:

- Rescind the appointment of Fr. Swearingen at Memorial High School,

- Notify parents, teachers and administrators in writing and in person about Swearingen's civil conviction and the immediate threat he poses to kids,

- Remove Swearingen from any and all assignments that provide him access to kids and place him in an inpatient facility where he can get the treatment he requires,

- Post accurate and up-to-date information about Swearingen all diocesan communications, including bulletins, web pages and verbal announcements and encourage anyone with information about Swearingen to contact law enforcement.

You have the opportunity to save kids from abuse RIGHT NOW. Don't destroy your students' chances in order to protect a popular and well-liked man who "more than likely" is a child molester. You cannot afford to take that risk.

Joelle Casteix, Southwest Regional Director, SNAP, 949-322-7434, jcasteix@gmail.com

David Clohessy, SNAP Director, 314-566-9790, snapclohessy@aol.com

January 22, 2007-Statement by Paul Livingston of San Diego, SNAP Spokesperson (619) 847-3998 cell

Today is a very sad day for children still needlessly being placed at risk of abuse in the diocese of Fresno.

Worse, today is a very dangerous day for kids who are now being exposed to not only a credibly accused molester, but now one that has also been declared guilty by an impartial jury of molesting a boy.

Bishop Steinbock is using the generosity of parishioners to finance and harbor Fr. Swearingen, giving him unfettered access to children and vulnerable adults in the Fresno diocese. Swearingen is now working at Holy Spirit Church in Woodward Park.

We are here today to urge Fresno Catholics to stop giving donations that we believe only supports Bishop Steinbock’s continued reckless and dangerous actions that are keeping kids at risk of abuse today.

We hope that Catholics instead will contribute more than they usually do to other charities, knowing that their dollars are funding good works and not helping harbor a child molester.

Catholics should remain vigilant about the safety of their children as they continue to directly support charities that help people in need.

What started as a credible allegation is now an official finding by an objective jury. An unbiased group of citizens have heard the evidence and determined that Swearingen molested Juan Rocha.

Yet Fresno’s bishop - defies the dictates of public safety, common sense, and the national bishops’ sex abuse policies.

Bishop Steinbock’s actions prove once again that nothing has changed. Bishops still decide no matter what victims’ report, a jury decides, or their own abuse policies say.

Of course some people believe Swearingen is innocent. Some people believe he’s guilty.

Why take the risk?

The most crucial information came out in the recent 9-3 civil jury verdict - that is Swearingen molested Juan Rocha when he was a boy.

We’re not surprised that the jury deadlocked on the question of whether church officials knew about Swearingen’s crimes. Because church authorities often destroy evidence, threaten witnesses and intimidate victims, it’s very tough to prove they knew about Swearingen’s child sex crimes earlier.

But, on the most crucial question - guilt or innocence - an impartial jury determined that Swearingen sexually abused an innocent boy. Juan should feel proud and Catholics should feel grateful that a predator has been exposed.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org
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