BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A group of attorneys called a letter from the Fresno bishop read to parishioners Sunday “rambling, misleading, frankly bizarre” and written with the purpose of retaliating against former priest Craig Harrison.
“His obsessive fixation on Craig is troubling, and we are praying not only for the bishop’s health, but also that he begins to follow Christ’s teachings and be honest with the faithful,” the statement authored by local attorneys Kyle J. Humphrey, David A. Torres, H.A. Sala, Craig Edmonston, Jared Thompson and Danielle Humphrey says.
Harrison, the popular ex-pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, resigned from the priesthood in March. Bishop Joseph V. Brennan said Harrison’s resignation came the same week a church trial was set to begin on allegations the priest engaged in misconduct with seven minors.
The attorneys denied that was the case.
“As Bishop Brennan knows, the implication that Craig’s resignation had any relation to potential investigation of the false accusations against him is simply not true,” they said. “Craig adamantly sought out an investigation of the claims, took efforts to ensure any investigation was thorough, openly offered himself up to be interviewed, and provided substantial evidence to the Church and in court documents proving his innocence.”
Allegations against Harrison surfaced in 2019 and resulted in him being placed on leave while criminal investigations were conducted. No charges were filed, with some agencies saying the statute of limitations had expired.
Harrison filed multiple defamation lawsuits, including one against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which oversees Catholic churches in Kern.
The attorneys claim Brennan, after receiving evidence they say disproved the allegations, filed a secondary petition to Rome to punish Harrison for disobedience. They say the bishop made a series of threats and demands of Harrison, including threatening to add him to a list of credibly accused priests, if he didn’t drop the lawsuit and close his counseling business.
“These threats eventually reached a point of violating Craig’s morality and Christian faith by requiring that he refrain from praying publicly with others,” the attorneys say. “The bishop then had himself appointed the judge and jury over his own petition to punish Craig for disobeying his demands. It was at that point that Craig learned he would have no opportunity for due process to defend his right to live out his Christian faith and serve others, and so he was forced to request resignation.”
A judge dismissed Harrison’s lawsuit against the diocese. The decision is being appealed.
The attorneys say Harrison is eager for the suits to move forward and reveal the truth.
“In American Jurisprudence, all witnesses are treated the same, and Bishop Brennan will be no exception when he is questioned under oath,” they said.