Another priest goes on leave over sex abuse allegations – up to 7 now in Diocese of Fresno

Another Diocese of Fresno priest has been placed on administrative leave by Bishop Joseph V. Brennan because of allegations of sexual abuse.

Rev. Eric Swearengin is the seventh Diocese of Fresno priest to be placed on leave pending ongoing investigations.

His suspension stems from information included in a 2006 civil case that was confidentially settled by Swearengin and his accuser.

Brennan and Deacon Henry Medina on Sunday announced Swearingen’s status during masses at three Visalia churches – The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Family and St. Charles Borromeo – and St. Thomas the Apostle in nearby Goshen, where Swearengin had been serving as pastor.

Swearingen was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday, the church said in a statement.

Brennan said he understood this announcement might be difficult to receive for some, especially as Swearingen is “very seriously ill.”

“Please be assured that we will do all we can to support Fr. Eric and maintain his level of medical care without interruption,” the statement reads. “I am deeply concerned for his well-being.”

But Brennan said such action was necessary in light of “detailed information” related to the civil case that was brought to his attention following a file review. Brennan officially took over the leadership reins of the Diocese of Fresno on May 2.

“I am not able to offer further details,” he says.

Juan Rocha accused Swearengin of sexual abuse during the time Rocha served as an altar boy and Swearengin was pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield, 1989-93. Rocha reported the alleged abuse years later to the Diocese of Fresno, and the diocese ultimately decided the allegations were not credible.

In a civil trial that began in 2006, a jury found that Swearingen had abused Rocha, but hung on the second part of Rocha’s allegation, that the diocese knew about the abuse while it was happening. Then-Bishop John T. Steinbock, who died in 2010, publicly disagreed with the jury verdict.

Rather than go through a new trial, the sides settled.

Swearengin has served in parishes from Fresno to Lemoore to Bakersfield. When he was installed as pastor of the Visalia parishes in July 2014, the diocese issued a statement to the Visalia Times-Delta from then-Bishop Armando X. Ochoa affirming Swearengin’s good standing in the church.

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Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. She recently received the 2018 Journalistic Integrity award from the CACJ. In 2015, she won the Outstanding Journalist of the Year Award from the Nevada Press Association, and also received the Community Service Award.