Another Priest from the Diocese of Fresno Suspended
Another priest has been suspended from the Diocese of Fresno due to allegations of sexual abuse. This time, the action was not taken due to recent allegations, but because a new person in charge took the time to review old cases.
We are glad that Church officials from the Diocese of Fresno are looking deeper at cases of abuse within their diocese. We are also glad that they are taking steps to remove priests – like Fr. Eric Swearengin – that may present a danger to their communities.
When a survivor, Juan Rocha, first reported the allegations against Fr. Swearengin to Bishop Steinbock and the Diocese of Fresno, Church officials declared the allegations “not credible.” Yet in 2006 and after reviewing the evidence, a jury determined that Fr. Swearengin had abused Juan Rocha. The priest should have been removed from ministry at that point, considering the “zero tolerance” pledge made by U.S. bishops in 2002.
It is good that Bishop Joseph Brennan reached a different conclusion than his predecessor, Bishop John Steinbock, when reviewing information related to Fr. Swearengin’s case. Leaving Fr. Swearengin in ministry was an incomprehensible move, and one that needed to be corrected.
This is the second case this year where the diocese looked into an "old" allegation and appeared to have changed its assessment. Msgr Craig Harrison was accused of abusing a boy in 1998, and that report was found to be "unsubstantiated." However, last month Fresno chancellor and spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez apparently visited the 1998 accuser at his home to apologize and to tell him that she believed him. It seems clear to us that all previously dismissed cases must be reopened and reexamined. We strongly believe that continued investigation will reveal other instances where the earlier findings should be overturned.
We hope that anyone who may have seen, suffered, or suspected abuse committed by Fr. Swearengin – or any other priest from Fresno – will be encouraged by today’s move and inspired to come forward and report what they know to law enforcement. We also hope that Bishop Brennan will continue this trend of revisiting old cases and removing priests who should have been pulled from ministry many years ago.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California (email@example.com, 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (email@example.com, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)