Californian exclusive: Suspended priest Craig Harrison, back from self-exile, formulates his defense

Bakersfield Californian

June 10, 2019

By Robert Price

“Welcome to the bat cave,” Monsignor Craig Harrison’s attorney announced. “Look up here.”

Three large, brown sheets of easel paper were taped to the wall of the small, bare office, furnished only with a simple desk and two facing, upright chairs. Harrison, wearing a crisply ironed short-sleeve shirt, slid into the chair facing his lawyer. He looked to be 10 pounds lighter than the Father Craig his parishioners would remember.

Kyle Humphrey gestured toward the wall, where the easel paper had been arranged into one giant, blue-felt-tip scrawl of numbered names and dates. Blue lines connected some of the names to other names and some of the dates to other dates.

This was more war room than bat cave. This was the bunker, just across the hall from Humphrey’s cluttered office, where, for weeks now, he has been formulating a defense for his most celebrated client, a popular priest suspended from his clerical duties while investigators look into allegations of sexual impropriety.

“Now look,” Humphrey said again, and the lawyerly lecture began.

Humphrey has looked at hundreds of cases, both as a prosecutor and, for most of the past 30 years, a defense lawyer, but none have been anything like this: a trial, of sorts, with no reliably traveled path to exoneration.

Harrison, a gregarious, highly visible monsignor, was suspended April 24 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which announced it was revisiting accusations that Harrison had inappropriately touched a teenager while working at a Catholic church in Firebaugh in the 1990s. A second man contacted the diocese a few days later, also alleging “inappropriate behavior.”

Harrison was still recovering from an exhausting succession of Masses and other Easter weekend events when, that Tuesday night, he received a call from the diocese requesting his presence in Fresno the next morning.

“He just said, ‘I need to talk to you,'” Harrison said of his phone conversation with Bishop Armando Ochoa. “‘Can you come down?’ I said, ‘I have a funeral (to officiate).’ And he says, ‘Can you get out of it?'”

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