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Reedley Priest On Leave Following Two Sexual Abuse Reports. 'They Didn't Believe Me,' Survivor Says

Monica Velez
Valley Public Radio
Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno

A Reedley priest who was accused of sexual abuse by two women earlier this week was put on paid administrative leave Thursday, officials at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno confirmed.


Sylvia Gomez Ray, 52, spoke publicly about the alleged abuse she experienced in the 1980s from Msgr. John Esquivel on Monday in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bakersfield. At the time, Gomez Ray was a secretary at St. Joseph’s.


“I am grateful that Msgr. Esquivel has been placed on leave and I hope there will be a thorough investigation into the allegations against him at this time,” Gomez Ray told Valley Public Radio. “My main goal in coming forward was to stop any potential abuse that might still be occurring from continuing.”


She said the diocese is taking “a step in the right direction.”


After the Diocesan Review Board confirmed two women filed reports with the Bakersfield Police Department, officials put Esquivel on leave, said Teresa Dominguez, director of communications for the diocese.


Officials at the police department wouldn’t confirm whether anyone has filed a police report against Esquivel.


Gomez Ray said she filed a report with the police department. The other woman who filed a report wants to remain anonymous, according to her Santa Barbara-based attorney Tim Hale.


Hale said the diocese first received sexual abuse reports against Esquivel in 1983, and “repeatedly received additional reports of his misconduct in the following decades.”


“It should not have taken 36 years for the Diocese of Fresno finally to place the monsignor on administrative leave,” Hale said in an email. “Countless others would have been saved from abuse had they done so.”  


Officials at the diocese did not comment on these allegations citing the ongoing police investigation.


Since 2007, Esquivel has worked at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Reedley, according to the church’s website. Last April marked 50 years since he was ordained, the Reedley Exponent reported.

‘Nobody really took me seriously'


Gomez Ray alleged that Esquivel abused her when she was a teenager from the age of 16 to 18.


“I did tell people,” she said. “The adults that I told I didn't actually tell them what happened. I wouldn’t go into details because I was so ashamed, and embarrassed, and mortified at everything. I didn't want to talk about it.”


She tried to explain to adults that Esquivel wasn’t “the person that you think he is,” Gomez Ray said, but they didn’t believe her. She said she didn’t receive any support.


“Nobody really took me seriously in the ‘80s, they didn’t believe me -- the adults that I went to,” Gomez Ray said. “I kind of just said, ‘Forget it. If I’m getting this kind of (response) from them there's no way I can go up against this figure that’s larger than life.’”


Gomez Ray claims she told a woman she worked with about the alleged abuse and the woman believed her because she was going through the same thing. She also said she confided in a priest and he believed her, too. Gomez Ray was grateful for him, she said, because he shielded her from Esquivel when he could.


“Yes, he should have reported (the abuse) but he was a brand new priest, very young,” Gomez Ray said. “Back then nobody talked about this, we didn't hear reports about what went on. It was never brought to the light of day priests were abusing minors. He didn’t know what to do.”   


Valley Public Radio reached out to the priest Friday but he has not repsonded.

Monica Velez was a reporter at Valley Public Radio. She started out as a print reporter covering health issues in Merced County at the Merced Sun-Star.