FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — A Fresno judge on Friday issued a ruling resulting in the dismissal of former priest Craig Harrison’s defamation lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
The suit centered on statements former diocese spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez made to a radio station about what she said to a person who claimed to have been a victim of sexual misconduct by Harrison.
In the article, Dominguez said she told the alleged victim, “I personally expressed my concern for him; told him that I believe him, and apologized for the pain this matter has caused him. I told him that I will support him and be an advocate for him in any way that I can.”
Harrison, former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, argued Dominguez’s statements amounted to repeating defamatory allegations from years ago. He said she endorsed the alleged victim’s claims he was a child molester and abuser, court documents said.
The diocese filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing the statements were free speech protected under the First Amendment.
In her ruling, Judge Kristi Culver Kapetan said the statements were made in connection with a matter of public interest, were statements of opinion rather than of fact and that Dominguez “did not recite any allegations from anyone.”
“The article published on 5/19/19 by KQED, which reported Dominguez’s above statements, never identified what Dominguez was stating she believed,” Kapetan said in her ruling. “There is no indication that at the meeting (the accuser) detailed or even made any allegations against plaintiff. There is no clarity at all about what Dominguez was saying she believed.”
Craig Edmonston, Harrison’s attorney, said he strongly disagreed with the ruling.
“The judge made an error,” he said. “We like our chances on appeal.”
Harrison was the subject of multiple investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in April 2019. Authorities in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced declined to file criminal charges.
Harrison maintained his innocence and earlier this year resigned from the priesthood.
He has two other suits pending, one against a former Catholic monk who went public with allegations, and a third against the organization Roman Catholic Faithful and its founder Stephen Brady for publishing what he called “false, malicious and reckless accusations.”