MERCED, Calif. (KGET) — A second person has alleged sexual misconduct against well-known cleric Msgr. Craig Harrison, the report coming days after the Bakersfield community reacted in astonishment when a former altar boy said the priest abused him on multiple occasions.
Teresa Dominguez, spokeswoman of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, said the second person came forward Thursday — the same day the diocese sent out a news release regarding the initial allegations against Harrison, who has long served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church.
Dominguez said the diocese encouraged the second accuser to report the incident to the Merced Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the area where the alleged abuse occurred. The person agreed, and Merced police are now investigating, she said.
The diocese will conduct a second interview with the accuser next week, Dominguez said. She offered no details on the incident, and said Merced police will release more information.
Harrison served at Our Lady of Mercy, St. Patrick’s and Sacret Heart in Merced, according to the diocese.
Kyle J. Humphrey, Harrison’s attorney, issued the following statement in response to the new allegations.
“I am not surprised that the news has generated more accusations. It is predictable in high-profile clergy abuse allegations that people view the Catholic Church as an entity with deep pockets and these individuals see potential financial gain. When someone comes forward to allege an incident from 31 years ago, their motivation is suspect. These people are committing character assassination on a good man. We will continue to fight against these false allegations and we will restore Monsignor Craig’s good name and see him reinstated to his rightful place as pastor of Saint Francis parish.”
Diocese officials said that on April 15 they reported an allegation of sexual misconduct against Harrison to the Firebaugh Police Department. That accuser, police said, served as an altar boy and was 16 or 17 years old when the alleged abuse occurred. He’s now an adult.
The accuser said the abuse occurred on three occasions when he and Harrison were alone, police said.
Diocese officials said Harrison was called in for a meeting Wednesday with Bishop Xavier Ochoa and informed of the Firebaugh accusation. Harrison served at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Firebaugh.
Harrison posted on Facebook Thursday that he doesn’t know the names or motives of his accusers, and denied any wrongdoing.
“I will vigorously defend my honor from these allegations and look forward to my good name being cleared,” he wrote. “Please keep me in your prayers during this trying time.”
Harrison has been placed on leave as the investigations continue.