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Ex-Altar Boy Sues Fresno Diocese; Alleges Sex Abuse By Priest

Oct 4, 2002 | AP

A former altar boy who claims he was sexually molested by his parish priest filed a civil lawsuit against Thursday the Fresno Catholic Diocese and two churches.

Juan Rocha, 27, accused the Rev. Eric Swearingen, a former priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Bakersfield and St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno, of abusing him from roughly 1985 to 1989.

Rocha is seeking unspecified punitive damages from the diocese and the churches, said his lawyer, Raymond Boucher.

Swearingen, who has been a priest in the diocese since 1987, was out of town and unavailable for comment on Thursday. It was unclear what Swearingen's role in the church was from 1985 to 1987.

Rocha said he came forward after hearing about other stories from victims of sexual abuse by priests.

"For me, it just happened to be that there was a lot of people coming forward at the time, too. I saw strength in them and I gained strength in them and I was encouraged to come forward and talk about this," said Rocha at a news conference in front of the Fresno Diocese before he delivered a letter requesting Swearingen be removed from his parish.

"It's been very difficult. I can't even hug my wife sometimes, it feels I can't even begin to describe what it feels like when someone takes advantage of somebody like that," he said.

Fresno Dioceses spokesman Bill Lucido said the dioceses has taken no action against Swearingen after an internal diocese investigation showed the allegations weren't credible.

"I did not suspend Father Swearingen and would only suspend him from priestly duties if the police charges him with a crime or if new credible information is received," said Bishop John Steinbock in a statement.

Bakersfield police have recently completed an investigation involving a priest but Sgt. Bill Maxwell did not give details. The Fresno Police Department did not return calls seeking comment.

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