Appeal: Bakersfield priest intimidating child sex abuse accusers
A July appellants’ opening brief claims that Bakersfield priest Monsignor Craig Harrison is engaged “in a pattern of rank intimidation against those who speak against him.” Harrison faces multiple accusations of child sex abuse, and while no criminal charges have been filed against him, he remains suspended from ministry.
The brief is part of an appeal against a trial court’s reversal of an anti-SLAPP motion filed by Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc. and Stephen Brady, who Harrison sued for defamation.
Roman Catholic Faithful held a press conference in May 2019 after commencement of Diocese of Fresno and law enforcement investigations, making it known the Catholic watchdog group had reported Harrison to authorities before in 2004. Harrison then filed a defamation suit, alleging the group re-published false and defamatory allegations.
The brief claims Harrison is intimidating his accusers “using all of his extensive resources and connections in his local community,” adding “he’s sued a victim, an investigator, and his own diocese – and enlisted his brother to engage in a campaign of harassment.”
The brief notes that the Fresno County District Attorney’s office said “the allegations made against Monsignor Harrison appear credible to investigators” when declining to press charges against Harrison in February due to statute of limitations issues.
The brief provides claims outlining Harrison’s history of sexual abuse:
Harrison was assigned in 1987 to assist at Our Lady of Mercy parish in Merced, California, according to the brief, which claims Harrison told a man “that every morning Harrison lined up all the boys who were residing in the house and examined each boy’s testicles with a flashlight,” telling the boys “that by doing this he could tell if any one of them was using narcotics.” The brief claims one man committed suicide because of Harrison’s abuse, telling his family in the late 1980s that “Harrison would fondle his genitals to see if he was using drugs, and would demand sexual favors in return for helping him with police trouble.”
The brief claims a 16-year-old Merced boy was asked by Harrison to take a urine test for drugs, adding that “inappropriate touching by Harrison happened in the bathroom afterward.”
A Bakersfield Victim
The brief claims Harrison sexually abused a Bakersfield minor “seven to nine times over a four-year period” after transferring to St. Francis Catholic Church in Bakersfield. The brief says the victim grew up poor to a single mother of three children and Harrison took an interest in the victim, helping his mother by giving her money and groceries, ultimately becoming “like a father figure to him.” The brief says Harrison would tell the victim things like “you’re so special in my heart,” giving him money and alcohol and gifting him two cars.
The brief says the abuse “began with wrestling and roughhousing,” which “escalated to him getting pinned against a wall and Harrison dry humping him from behind.”
Harrison was transferred to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Firebaugh in 1992. The brief claims he “had inappropriate encounters with at least three minors” while in Firebaugh.
The brief says one of the victims was asked by Harrison to “come here and drop your pants.” That brief claims that Harrison would “take his temperature by grabbing his testicles.”
The brief says another of the victims “had two sexual encounters and one semi-sexual encounter” with Harrison, adding “it wasn’t until I found another person on his knees providing [Harrison] with oral pleasure that I became sick.”
The brief says that victim told a visiting Franciscan about the abuse and that he was “told essentially to remain quiet.”
More Bakersfield Victims
Harrison was transferred back to St. Francis Catholic Church in Bakersfield in 1999. The brief claims Harrison had “three inappropriate interactions with another minor between 2003 and 2006” in Bakersfield.
The brief claims Harrison had this minor sit on his lap, then “placed one hand inside of his pocket and began rubbing something with his hand from inside of his pocket,” having “a look of enjoyment on his face” as the rubbing occurred.
The brief claims another Bakersfield victim once shared a bed with Harrison, who “sexually caressed [his] chest for about 10 minutes.” The brief claims that victim once “casually” asked him “what kind of porn do you watch?” The brief says he followed this question by saying “you know that everyone is bisexual, right?”