UPDATE: Harrison asked to leave priesthood after Vatican scheduled misconduct hearing: Diocese

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UPDATE (9/7): Diocese spokeswoman Cheryl Sarkisian said Tuesday in response to questions asked by 17 News that the bishop’s letter speaks for itself.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) (9/6) — The war between a beloved former priest and Kern’s Catholic bishop intensified over the weekend with a letter read to worshipers at the priest’s former Bakersfield parish.

The bishop’s letter said Craig Harrison left the priesthood the same week the Vatican had scheduled a church trial on allegations by seven minors of misconduct by Harrison. It went into detail on priestly activities Harrison is barred from performing.

Kyle J. Humphrey, an attorney who has spoken on Harrison’s behalf multiple times, said he wasn’t surprised by the letter’s contents.

“This is the obsessive, angry, unchristian approach the bishop has taken from day one,” he said. “Harrison will continue to be a Christian man and continue to reach out with the message of love that Jesus taught us and won’t be silenced by a person that clearly took this personally and has been very vindictive throughout this process.”

He added, “If the goal of this letter was to drive more people from the Catholic faith and more people from the Fresno diocese, mission accomplished.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno did not respond Monday to emails seeking comment.

The letter was read Sunday at all Masses at St. Francis of Assisi Church, the downtown parish where Harrison was monsignor and pastor until he was suspended when the first allegations were made public in April 2019.

Some of those allegations were more than 20 years old. Allegations against Harrison have been investigated by police in three counties, but no charges have been filed.

“The Diocese began an internal investigation that could only be completed once the law enforcement agencies involved concluded their investigations,” the bishop’s letter said. “The Diocesan Review Board reviewed all available information regarding each allegation and arrived at the opinion that the allegations were credible.”

Authorities at the Vatican, “authorized a judicial tribunal to hear the matter,” the letter said. “The Tribunal was scheduled to convene within the same week that the Diocese was notified that Mr. Harrison had voluntarily petitioned Rome to be dispensed from the clerical state.”

The reading of the letter brought a flood of criticism of Bishop Joseph Brennan and support for Harrison.

More than a hundred people offered support on Harrison’s Facebook page.

One Facebook post suggested a prayer chain be created to ask God to restore the bishop’s mental health.

In the letter, Brennan said it’s “problematic” that Harrison has indicated he is offering spiritual counseling and spiritual direction.

“Well, ‘spiritual direction’ is a specific ministry in the church reserved to priests in active ministry and lay people who have been both properly prepared and approved by their local bishop to offer such ministry,” Brennan says in the letter.

In June, the bishop told Harrison to close his counseling business, saying he was confusing people, some of who continued to refer to him as “Father Craig” or “Monsignor.”

An attorney for Harrison said at the time that Harrison had made it clear he was no longer a priest, and he is allowed to counsel others as a private citizen.

An investigation into Harrison began in April 2019 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Harrison officially left the priesthood March 18. He has two pending defamation lawsuits, one filed against a former monk, the other against a group called The Roman Catholic Faithful.

Harrison is named in two lawsuits filed in June alleging he sexually assaulted two minors. The suits allege negligence and negligent supervision of minors on the part of the diocese.

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