Fresno · Visalia

Catholic priest Swearengin placed on leave by Fresno Diocese

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno placed priest Eric Swearingen on paid administrative leave amid new information related to potential misconduct, Bishop Joseph Brennan announced Monday.

“This action was necessary in light of detailed information associated with a civil case dating back to 2009 following a file review,” Fresno Bishop Joseph Brennan said in a statement. “I am not able to offer further details.”

Though currently assigned to Good Shepherd Parish in Visalia, Swearengin is on medical leave and was considered “very seriously ill,” per a statement from Fresno Bishop

Swearingen was accused in 2002 of molesting Army Special Forces Sgt. Juan Rocha over the course of three years in the 1980s.

The first alleged incidents between Swearingen and Rocha occurred at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Bakersfield. Rocha was an altar boy.

Rocha later ran away from home at the age of 13 and wound up in Fresno, turning to help at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in southwest Fresno. Coincidentally, Swearingen was transferred to St. Alphonsus at the same time.

“You can call it a coincidence,” Rocha said at a 2002 news conference announcing the allegations. “It just happened. He was there.”

Below is the full statement provided by Bishop Brennan:

My Dear People of God,

At this time, it is my responsibility as your Bishop to inform you that I have placed Father Eric Swearingen, Pastor of Good Shepherd Parish, on “Paid Administrative Leave” effective as of June 5, 2019.

I understand that this is very difficult information for you to receive; especially, at a time when Fr. Eric 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. I am deeply concerned for his wellbeing.

This action was necessary in light of detailed information associated with a civil case dating back to 2009 that was brought to my attention following a file review. I am not able to offer further details.

I ask for your ongoing prayerful support of Fr. Eric and your continuing commitment to your beautiful faith community. Peace be with you.

In Christ,

Most Reverend Joseph V. Brennan, D.D.
Bishop, Diocese of Fresno 

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.