Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno publishes ‘credible’ list of perpetrators
Friday, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno published a list of priests who says he faced “a credible accusation of sexual abuse”.
The list included Reverend Eric Swearingen, a native of Tulare County who rose through the church hierarchy to lead Catholics in Visalia despite an allegation of sexual abuse. It passed away in 2020 after a long illness.
The list also includes 65 other names of San Joaquin Valley clergy who have been accused of sexual misconduct against minors and young adults. Other priests in the Tulare County area have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct dating back to before World War II. All have since died.
In a statement issued by Bishop Joseph Brennan on the Diocese of Fresno website, the Catholic leader said the church family “is far from perfect” and “may be dysfunctional.”
“Some family members – priests, deacons and religious in positions of trust and leadership – behaved badly,” he wrote. “That’s an understatement. Let’s face it, the acts of abuse of the innocent and the vulnerable are really bad, straightforward and simple. The pain, suffering, betrayal and loss of innocence felt by many victims last a lifetime. “
The Diocese of Fresno announced in 2019 that it would review accusations of sexual abuse by priests and other church officials dating back to 1922. But members of the Priest Abuse Survivors Network (SNAP) said that the exam took too long and information on the accusations of sexual abuse against members of the Catholic clergy should have been released immediately.
In a report, SNAP praised the Diocese of Fresno for finally releasing the names of credible defendants, but asked for details of the incidents. In addition, SNAP called on the diocese to also disclose the names of the nuns, lay staff and lay volunteers credibly.
“Despite these shortcomings, the current list helps lawyers, parishioners and the public build a better mosaic of abuse in the Diocese of Fresno.” SNAP wrote in its statement. “This release will not only help survivors heal, but it could also help protect children today.”
Swearingen, who was appointed chief pastor of the four Catholic congregations of Visalia, George McCann School and Central Bethlehem in 2014, was put on administrative leave in June 2019 after Brennan received more information about a 2006 civil case in which an ex-altar boy sued Swearingen for alleged sexual abuse. The victim said the alleged abuse of Swearingen occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
No criminal charges were ever laid in this case, but a civil jury ruled that Swearingen mistreated the victim. The trial demanded that the jury find that the abuse occurred and that the diocese had no prior knowledge of the incident.
Due to the split decision, the judge declared the case quashed. A second trial was scheduled, but both sides agreed to binding arbitration well in advance of the court date – a settlement both sides agreed to keep secret.
Brennan and the church have not disclosed what additional information led to Swearingen’s administrative leave decision in 2019.
The Diocese of Fresno spans eight counties, including Tulare, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa, and serves 1.2 million parishioners.
The Catholic Church is not the only high-level institution to be troubled by scandals related to the use of sex.
In 2019, the leaders of Southern Baptist Convention pledged to encourage reform who protect children and women after a massive investigation published by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News found hundreds of victims of sexual misconduct by church leaders or volunteers.
In 2017, Dr Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to abusing hundreds of gymnasts despite complaints about his behavior over the years to the US Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
In 2018, more than 100 former Ohio state students reportedly sexually abused by ex-team doctor Richard Strauss from 1979 to 1997. Students allege that the university ignored or covered up the abuse complai
The Boy Scouts of America also faced a major sex scandal when a judge ordered in 2019 to release more than 20,000 confidential documents revealing that more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers were banned after being accused of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.
James Ward covers entertainment, new, sports and lifestyles for the Visalia Times-Delta / Tulare Advance-Register. Follow him on Twitter. Receive alerts and stay up to date on all things Tulare County for as little as $ 1 per month. Subscribe today.