Fresno Catholic diocese ‘pondering’ whether to name local priests accused of sex crimes
Bishop Armando X. Ochoa is working with a review board to determine what information the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno may release about area priests accused of sexual misconduct, including the possibility of publicly identifying those priests by name.
Teresa Dominguez, chancellor for the Diocese of Fresno, said Ochoa in early September raised the issue with the Fresno Diocesan Review Board. The board is made up of members that come from diverse professional backgrounds, such as law enforcement, education, social work and victim psychological services.
It remains unclear how much longer those discussions will take before a conclusion is reached on what to release and when.
“This is a very thoughtful process that will also include discussions that take place within the California Catholic Conference of Bishops and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops,” she said. “Both meetings are taking place this fall.”
A call to speak with Ochoa was not returned.
A Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August revealed widespread sexual abuse involving more than 300 priests over a span of 70 years. Most damaging, the report found, is the abuse had been covered up by bishops and other church leaders.
On the heels of that report, dioceses in California and in other parts of the country announced plans to release the names of priests accused of sexual abuse.
Cheryl Sarkisian, who works for the Diocese of Fresno and also sits on the review board, said they are still in the “pondering phase.”
“We want due process to happen,” she said.
Sarkisian, who is a victim assistance coordinator, said she serves under Ochoa and would follow whatever he ultimately decides.
The Diocese of Fresno oversees 87 parishes in the counties of Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa. There are an estimated 1.2 million Catholics in the eight counties covered by the Diocese of Fresno, according to Jim Grant, director of the Social Justice Ministry.
“The discussions include all elements of public disclosure,” Dominguez said.
The region has been struck with local sex abuse cases within the Catholic church in the past.
In February, a former lead priest at St. Joseph Church in Los Banos was sentenced to four years in state prison after pleading no contest to possessing child pornography. Robert E. Gamel, who had headed the Los Banos church from 2009 to 2014, was also required to register as a sex offender.
The child pornography case was Gamel’s second conviction for possessing the same illegal image, authorities have said.
In 2006, a jury found that Rev. Eric Swearingen had abused Juan Rocha, who reported the abuse to former Fresno Bishop John Steinbock. Rocha filed a civil lawsuit after Steinbock didn’t find the accusations to be credible. Both parties later settled the lawsuit.