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Diocese of Fresno

If you were abused by a priest in the Diocese of Fresno, please contact us. We’d like to help make certain every story is told.

Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse in the Diocese of Fresno

Accusations of sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church weren’t always quickly reported and investigated. Instead, the statute of limitations laws in California meant they had often been ignored, as victims only had until the age of twenty-six to report the abuse.

In the Diocese of Fresno, nearly 50 priests have been accused of sexual abuse. Not all of those claims were investigated, though, because many of them didn’t meet the requirements laid out by the statute of limitations. That lack of investigation can make it difficult to find out whether certain priests were credibly accused.

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List of Accused Priests: Diocese of Fresno Sexual Abuse

The list you see below comes from a number of different sources, and while some of the individuals on the list below dispute the allegations, the reality is all of them have been accused of sexual abuse by at least one individual, which is why they appear on lists like these. If possible, a summary of the allegations against the individual has been included, as has a list of the priest’s assignments while he served the Catholic Church.

This list of accused priests in the Diocese of Fresno certainly isn’t a complete one. There are likely other priests who sexually abused children in the area, but those survivors have yet to share their stories of abuse. We’d like to help make certain every story is told.

Father John Bradley

  • Ordained: 1954
  • Status: Sued
  • D/O: Jesuit

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Per 12/03 article, woman had filed suit alleging that when she was 17 and pregnant in the early 1960s, her family sent her to live with friends in Fresno. Suit says that Bradley, a priest at St. Agnes Mission, abused her for five months while she was pregnant. He is not indexed in Official Catholic Directory after 1970.

Father Tod D. Brown (Bp)

  • Ordained: 1963
  • Status: Accused
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Bishop of Boise City ID 1989-98; Bishop of Orange CA 1998-2012. Retired. Man came forward in early 2007 to allege abuse in Bakersfield in 1965 by when he was approximately 12 yrs old. The man produced copies of correspondence to and from the Fresno diocese in 7/97 re the alleged abuse. He also wrote to Cardinal Mahony in 2002. Brown admitted in deposition 9/07 that he had been accused and that church had investigated. He denied the abuse. Retirement announced 9/12.

Father Hermy Dave O. Ceniza

  • Status: Suez
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Civil suit filed 4/10 alleges that the priest abused and stalked one youth while at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield around 1991 In 1993 Accuser called Bishop Steinbock who met with him and promised Ceniza would no longer be a priest. Now Accuserhas learned that Ceniza is living in Philippines and is still a priest. The suit alleges fraud on part of Diocese.

Father James Collins

  • Ordained: 1939
  • Status: Sued
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Woman filed suit 12/03 alleging abuse by Collins for five years in early 1960s when she attended St. Mary's Church in Buttonwillow. Collins also served at churches in Avenal and Lemoore. Suit settled 8/06 for $875,000. (Appears to be different person than James Collins of NY).

Father Raul Diaz

  • Ordained: 1997
  • Status: Accused
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Assigned to St. Catherine's in Dinuba when placed on leave in 5/19 during an investigation of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors. Diocese informed by law enforcement.

Father John Esquivel

  • Ordained: 1968
  • Status: Accused
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Accused publicly in 6/19 of sexually abusing a 17- or 18-year-old girl in the mid-1980s at St. Joseph's in Bakersfield. His accuser worked as his secretary at the time, and said that he groped, open-mouth kissed and verbally abused her. She said her work with the priest started after she joined the parish's youth group. SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) stated that three other women told them in recent years that Esquivel sexually abused them, two at age 16. Two of the alleged victims reportedly told another priest in around 1992, but no action.

Father Miguel Flores

  • Ordained: 1994
  • Status: Acquitted
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

From Guadalajara, Mexico. Ordained in Bolivia. Ministered and taught in Chile. Studied in Argentina and Australia. Taught in Peru, studied in Colombia. Arrived in the Fresno diocese from Mexico in 1999. Accused by a 16-year-old girl in 2002 of sexual assault 1/02-2/02. She was his office assistant at parishes in Tranquility and Hanford. Acquitted by jury 8/02 on three counts of forcible rape, three counts of sex with a minor and charge of making threats and intimidating a witness. Returned to active ministry. Case reopened in 2019 after new information deemed credible. Placed on leave in 2/19.

Father Benjamin Gabriel

  • Status: Sued
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Originally from Philippines. Sued 2003. Accused of abuse of one youth at St. Jude Parish in Earlimart for two years in the mid-1970s Not in parish assignment after 1980. Apparently retired in 1986. Not in 1989 Catholic Directory.

Father Robert Gamel

  • Ordained: 1990
  • Status: Sentenced
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Removed 8/15/14. Investigated by police for alleged internet-related sex crimes involving at least one teenage boy. Computers and hard drives seized from rectory of St. Joseph's in Los Banos where he had worked since 2009. Police said parishioners were uncomfortable with Gamel's behavior with young males, including rubbing the back of a sleeping teen, and hugging a youth in a single-person restroom. Pled no contest 3/11/16 to possessing child porn. Sentenced in 5/16 to 11 months in jail and 4 years probation. Ordered to register as a sex offender. Assignments included Christ the King and St. Joseph's Mission in Oildale, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bakersfield, St. Ann's in Ridgecrest, St. Joseph's in Boron and Our Lady of Lourdes in California City. Released from jail in 12/16. Arrested again 4/12/17 on child porn possession. Pled not guilty 5/17. Pled no contest 11/28/17, sentenced to 4 years in state prison. Released 4/13/19.

Father Louis Aloysius Garcia

  • Ordained: 1963
  • Status: Convicted
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Accused of abusing several developmentally disabled patients 5/79-8/80 at Porterville State Hospital where he was Chaplain. Civil litigation and criminal charges filed. Matters taken to California's Court of Appeals. Sentenced to 6 years in 1983. Garcia was on sick leave per 1988 Catholic Directory. Listed on CA sex offender registry as of 5/15/11.

Father Craig Harrison

  • Ordained: 1987
  • Status: Accused
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Monsignor. Sheriff's Office and Police Dept. chaplain, parish priest. Father of eight adopted children. Placed on leave in 4/19 pending investigation that he inappropriately touched a boy, ages 14-16, decades prior in Firebaugh. Report made to diocese 4/12; diocese contacted police three days later. Harrison denied the allegations. The Bakersfield community responded with overwhelming support for Harrison. Two more men came forward in late 4/19 to allege abuse as minors by Harrison. One of the two had reported in 1998 and again in 2002 that Harrison abused him in Firebaugh in 1998. The diocese deemed the allegation unsubstantiated in 2002. Bakersfield police closed the case in 6/19. The Fresno diocese was continuing to investigate. Harrison filed a slander lawsuit in 8/19 against the Roman Catholic Faithful, a group publicizing claims that Harrison abused in Firebaugh. Merced County D.A. said in 11/19 that it would not file charges due to the SOL.

Father Anthony G. Herdegen

  • Ordained: 1946
  • Status: Settled
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Retired 1995. Sued 12/03. Accused of abuse of two brothers, 5-19 and 10-15, in starting in 1959. No criminal charges due to statute of limitations. Appeals Court ruled 5/08 that lawsuit could go forward because Cardinal Mahony's testimony indicated the church was or should have been aware that Herdegen might have been an abuser. Cal. Sup. Ct. declined to hear appeal on decision to go forward. Trial began 3/09. Jury found for Diocese on SOL 4/3/09. One plaintiff to get new trial. The younger brother received a settlement.

Father Vincent A. O'Connell

  • Status: Sued
  • D/O: Holy Ghost Fathers

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Native of Ireland. Worked in Nigeria. Came to Fresno as visiting priest between assignments in 1970. Assigned to St. Anthony of Padua in Fresno. Accused in 2013 civil suit of manually raping a 16 yr old girl. Her father died suddenly and O'Connell spent a lot of time with family before raping her. He currently lives in home for the Holy Ghost Fathers in Dublin, Ireland. In 2012, same woman filed separate suit against Arch of San Francisco for not doing anything when told of the abuse in 2003.

Father Eric Swearingen

  • Ordained: 1987
  • Status: Sued
  • D/O: Diocesan

Sexual Abuse Allegation Notes:

Sued 2002; briefly placed on leave. Accused of abusing a teenage altar boy at Our Lady Of Guadalupe in Bakersfield 1989-93. Diocese deemed allegation to be not credible. Allowed to return to ministry after DA's office did not pursue criminal charges 11/02; said no evidence and no witnesses. Mistrial in civil case 12/20/06 due to split decision: jury ruled Swearingen did likely abuse the boy, but diocese did not have prior knowledge. The suit required both claims to be true. Case went to binding arbitration 5/07. Decision to be secret. Named rector of diocesan high school in 12/07. Still active as of 3/09 at Holy Spirit Parish in Fresno. In 6/14, named pastor of the Catholic Church of Visalia, CA. Placed on leave 6/5/19 due to information from a 2009 civil case. Reportedly ill with brain cancer.

DISCLAIMER: The individuals on this list have allegations of sexual abuse against them. Under U.S. law, an allegation, however, does not define guilt. Instead, a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty during legal proceedings, whether criminal or civil. These list entries do not imply the individual on the list is criminally guilty or legally liable for civil claims of damage caused by sexual abuse. Instead, it represents those who have been publicly accused of abuse.

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