The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, in a letter read aloud at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield on September 5, has said that, in their opinion, allegations of child sex abuse against former priest Craig Harrison are credible.
“The Diocesan Review Board reviewed all available information regarding each allegation and arrived at the opinion that the allegations were credible,” the letter stated. “This led to the opening of a canonical case with the Holy See seeking penal action.”
Harrison had been placed on leave in April 2019 after abuse allegations first surfaced in Firebaugh. Further accusations later emerged in other locations, including Merced and Bakersfield.
Harrison, according to the letter, voluntarily left the priesthood on the same week that a church trial was scheduled by the Vatican regarding accusations of misconduct against Harrison by seven minors. Harrison gave up all duties, rights and honors from the church, including the titles “monsignor” and “father.”
The letter was read aloud in church at the request of Bishop Joseph Brennan. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) applauded Brennan’s decision, stating they had demanded he release more details about Harrison.
“This step may well encourage others who were victimized by Harrison or another priest, nun, or religious (leader) in the Diocese to find the courage and strength to come forward and report to law enforcement,” SNAP said.
The letter stated that the Diocese’s internal investigation could only be completed once law enforcement concluded their investigations. Harrison had been investigated by several law enforcement jurisdictions.
The Fresno County District Attorney’s office said in February 2020 that investigators found sexual abuse accusations against Harrison credible, but that no charges would be filed against him because the statute of limitations had run out.
The Merced County District Attorney’s office said in November 2019 that they wouldn’t file charges against Harrison because the statute of limitations had expired.
The Bakersfield Police Department announced in July 2019 that no charges would be filed against Harrison because they found no “criminal behavior with corroborative evidence.”
Catholic clergy child sex abuse victims can still file civil lawsuits for damages in California. Harrison has been named in two lawsuits which were filed in June that claim he sexually abused two minors.
AB-218 gives victims of child sexual abuse in California until the age of 40, or five years from the date they discover that a psychological injury or illness was caused by sexual assault, whichever is later, to file a lawsuit over the abuse.