Fr. Craig Harrison, in an emotional announcement, steps away from priesthood after 2-year battle in Diocese

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Monsignor Craig Harrison’s battle of almost two years with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno appears to have come to a close — at least in the most meaningful sense.

Harrison announced Thursday he is leaving the priesthood.

It was an emotional day for Harrison, both difficult and liberating. After almost two years of limbo — suspended by the Diocese over allegations of sexual impropriety and barred from even the appearance of performing priestly duties — Harrison, pastor of Bakersfield’s St. Francis of Assisi Church, surrounded by family and his team of attorneys — announced he was moving on.

It’s time, he said, to re-engage with the community, even if it’s without his clerical collar.

“How can I abandon the foundations, the charities and the things I’ve worked for in this community that I love? Well, I can’t,” he said. “So therefore … today I am announcing that I am resigning as the pastor of Saint Francis Parish. I submitted a letter to his holiness Pope Francis, resigning as a Catholic priest.

“Because I cannot ignore my call from Christ to serve and minister to his people and I’ve come to accept that I cannot do this with any organization led by people who are willing to sacrifice the Gospel for politics and money.”

The former priest has maintained his innocence — and after authorities in Kern, Fresno and Merced declined to file criminal charges associated with allegations in those counties, Harrison filed three defamation lawsuits: One against the Diocese, which oversees Catholic churches in Kern, after a Diocese representative went on a San Francisco radio station and discussed the allegations against him.

Those suits, said attorney Craig Edmonston, are ongoing, two having already survived preliminary challenges in court.

The question now for Harrison: what’s next? First off, dismiss any notion that he’s moving away from Bakersfield.

“This is where I live, this is where I will always (stay),” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

What might his options be now? Harrison is in no rush to decide.

“There’s some grief, there’s all kinds of emotions going on, but I’m in the moment,” he said. “I’m going to try to stay in this moment and feel God’s grace on where he leads me.”

Harrison has in many ways been more than just the face of Catholicism in Bakersfield. To many, he has been the face of clerical compassion, too, presiding over religious and secular events alike — both public and private — for decades.

He looks forward now to continuing in at least one aspect of his former role — that of counselor.

So, now, the popular figure bakersfield has known as Father Craig or in recent years Monsignor Craig moves on to another part of his life believing he still has a lot to give.

KGET reached out Diocese spokeswoman Cheryl Sarkisian for comment on Harrison’s resignation but we had not heard by airtime.

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