Another Fresno Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse

News: US News
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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 18, 2019   

Multiple women are accusing Msgr. John Esquivel of sexual and verbal abuse

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REEDLEY, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Amid calls for the diocese of Fresno, California to release the names of those credibly accused of molestation, an eighth priest is accused of sexually and verbally abusing a teen girl. 

At a press conference on Monday with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Silvia Gomez Ray alleged Msgr. John Esquivel groped, open-mouth kissed and verbally abused her 30 years ago when she was 17–18 years old and working as a secretary at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bakersfield, California. 

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Msgr. John Esquivel

SNAP representatives claimed they have been contacted by three additional women who are claiming he abused them. Two of the women were minors at the time of the abuse.

"One of those survivors stated that they refused to report to the Bakersfield Police Department because the investigator the survivor spoke to stated that his first call would be to the bishop," SNAP said.

They want Bp. Joseph Brennan, the bishop of Fresno, to suspend him from ministry while these allegations are investigated and "aggressively seek out other victims of Msgr. Esquivel and encourage them to contact the police, local district attorney and the attorney general." 

Gomez Ray claimed she was groomed by Msgr. Esquivel and recruited to work as the church secretary. 

The diocese of Fresno released a statement on Monday afternoon explaining they will file a report with the Bakersfield Police Department and will be discussing the allegations at the diocesan review board that afternoon.

Currently working as the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Reedley, California, Msgr. Esquivel is directing a $7.5 million capital campaign to build a new church. 

The allegations against Msgr. Esquivel come a week after Bp. Joseph Brennan placed a seventh priest in the diocese on paid leave pending investigations into abuse allegations.

Father Eric Swearingen, the pastor of Good Shepard parish in Visalia, California, was placed on "paid administrative leave" on June 5. A statement from Bp. Brennan noted, "The 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." 

Bishop Brennan added he wasn't able to offer further details. 

In 2017, Fr. Swearingen underwent treatment for a brain tumor and has been seriously ill since that time. 

SNAP officials noted, "Fr. Swearington had been previously accused of abuse but the accusations were originally found to be 'not credible.'"

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Monsignor Esquivel is also connected to Cdl. Roger Mahony. A 2002 report explains a woman reported to Msgr. Esquivel her accusation that Cdl. Mahony molested her in 1970 while she was a student at San Joaquin Memorial Catholic High School.

Cardinal Mahony vigorously denied the allegation, saying, "Such false allegations are hurtful and troubling to me, yet I continue to pray fervently for those who make them." 

The Los Angeles Times reported the widespread disbelief of her claims and that a number of priests took to the pulpit to defend Cdl. Mahony, including Msgr. Esquivel, who told the Associated Press he didn't believe the woman.

"She claimed that happened with 40 different youths watching, There's no way that is going to happen in front of all those people," he said. "I don't believe the allegations are true."

Three weeks after the investigation started, the police cleared Cdl. Mahony of the molestation charge levied by the woman, who was described as having a  history of mental illness.

Cardinal Mahony is listed on the archdiocese of Los Angeles' list of priests accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. 

Last week, Msgr. Craig Harrison was removed from ministry after an investigation into allegations surfaced from six men who accused him of abusing them. Further evidence shows he may have been stealing thousands in parishioners' donations.

In May, Bp. Brennan denounced comments disparaging victims of sexual abuse made by Msgr. Harrison's attorney, Kyle Humphrey. Speaking to the Bakersfield Californian, Humphrey said the diocese's call for victims to come forward was like "inviting pigs to line up the trough for whatever their needs are."

"When you blast that out you invite a lot of damaged people or people with unsuccessful lives to feel important," he added.

The Diocese of Fresno does not make available to the public the full history, knowledge and context of the sexually abusive clerics.

Earlier this week, Fr. Michael Lastiri was outed for allegations that he lived an active homosexual lifestyle and misappropriated thousands in donations while being protected for three decades by two bishops. 

Bishop John Steinbock, the bishop of Fresno from 1991–2010, and Bp. Armando Ocha, who was only replaced by Bp. Brennan this year, both kept Fr. Lastiri in ministry despite parishioners' demands that he be removed.

Even parishioners' proof of Fr. Lastiri's online activity on gay dating websites was not enough to have him removed by Bp. Ocha.  

While Harrison was named on Jeff Anderson & Associates' list of accused priests in the Fresno diocese, both Esquivel and Lastiri were not. The purpose of their report is to raise awareness of clerical sexual abuse and provide the public with information about accused priests that they claim the diocese is still hiding. 

"It is believed that the Diocese of Fresno does not make available to the public the full history, knowledge and context of the sexually abusive clerics within the Diocese," the report notes. 

The recent flood of civil lawsuits stemming from California's one-year retroactive window for childhood victims of sexual abuse allowed attorneys "to pry open secret church records."

The report explained, "These lawsuits resulted in the release and disclosure of the identities and histories of clerical sexual abusers, those engaged in sexual misconduct, and the release of documents and information reflecting the knowledge of institutions that covered up sexual abuse and misconduct."

SNAP representatives fear accusations against Msgr. Esquivel may also be found "not credible." They have reported the claims against Msgr. Esquivel to the Bakersfield and Reedley police departments and the California attorney general.  

Church Militant reached out to the diocese of Fresno to determine what actions the diocesan review board recommends but has not heard back by press time. 

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