FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — Attorneys have filed lawsuits alleging former priest Craig Harrison sexually assaulted two minors, one at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield.
Harrison sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at St. Francis in about 1990, said plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Anderson at a press conference in Fresno. He said Harrison lured the teen into the rectory and “violated him repeatedly.”
“It was by virtue of (Harrison’s) position as a priest of defendants that he met and groomed plaintiff, established trust with plaintiff, and manipulated that trust in order to sexually assault and abuse plaintiff,” the suit says.
The other suit alleges Harrison sexually assaulted a teen over a three-year period in Firebaugh, beginning when the boy was 15. It says the abuse started in 1993.
Anderson said he’s aware Harrison has been a very public pastor who has been in the diocese for years and is beloved and trusted by many.
But he’s also a predator, the attorney said. He declined to go into specifics regarding what Harrison allegedly did to the teens.
Kyle J. Humphrey, one of a group of attorneys representing Harrison, said the allegations are false and he suspected from the beginning the accusations that surfaced against Harrison two years ago were merely the precursor to a lawsuit.
“We said from the beginning that this was always, ultimately, about money,” Humphrey said in a news release.
Both lawsuits were filed in Oakland and name the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno among the defendants. The suits say the diocese knew or should have known Harrison engaged in sexual misconduct and ignored or concealed it from others.
The suits allege negligence and negligent supervision of minors on the part of the diocese.
“Defendants failed to provide reasonable supervisions of (Harrison), failed to use reasonable care in investigating (Harrison), and failed to provide adequate warning to plaintiff and others of (Harrison’s) dangerous propensities and unfitness,” according to the suits.
Anderson, who filed the suits with Sacramento-based attorney Joseph George Jr., said the alleged victims are now in their 40s or 50s and have suffered for decades. While the criminal statute of limitations has expired, he said state law allows them to identify Harrison as their abuser and take action against the diocese, the bishop and the parishes where the alleged offenses occurred.
During the press conference, Anderson called on Fresno Bishop Joseph V. Brennan to release a list of accused priests that the diocese two years ago said it was compiling and would make public.
“And so we’re here today not just to announce the filing of these two lawsuits against Monsignor Harrison, we’re here to implore Bishop Brennan to release his list,” Anderson said. “To release the list that we know he has, that he has chosen to keep secret as his predecessors before him, and is the list of the priests that he knows have been, in their view and in the diocese’ view, credibly accused of childhood sexual abuse.”
Diocese spokeswoman Cheryl Sarkisian said in an email the list will be released once complete, “which should be soon.” She said it will be published to the diocese website.
As for the lawsuits, Sarkisian said it’s the policy of the diocese not to comment on pending litigation.
Harrison was the subject of criminal investigations in three counties. Authorities in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced declined to file criminal charges due to the statute of limitations having expired or insufficient evidence.
Fresno prosecutors said last year the allegations against Harrison appeared credible but occurred in the 1990s and too much time had passed to file charges.
The Bakersfield Police Department said Harrison would not face charges due to insufficient evidence. Merced authorities said the accusations in their jurisdiction stemmed from alleged offenses in the 1980s and the statute of limitations had expired.
Earlier this year, Harrison resigned from the priesthood after he said it became apparent the diocese had no interest in helping him and wouldn’t allow him to perform the functions of a priest.