Fresno Bee [Fresno CA]
June 9, 2021
By Robert Rodriguez
The Diocese of Fresno is close to releasing a much-anticipated report on priests accused of sexual misconduct, an official said Wednesday.
“We are in the process of finalizing that report, “ said Cheryl Sarkisian, chancellor and victim assistance coordinator for the diocese. “It has been time- and labor-intensive and is close to being finalized for release soon.”
The diocese under then-Bishop Armando Ochoa vowed in January 2019 to release a list of accused priests, much like other dioceses have done across the country. Ochoa said at the time that the diocese would review its records dating back to 1922.
Among those pushing the Catholic Church for more transparency is noted lawyer Jeff Anderson & Associates. The Minnesota-based law firm specializes in representing victims of sexual abuse nationwide.
Anderson and his legal team were in Fresno on Wednesday announcing two lawsuits on behalf of the alleged sexually abused victims of former Monsignor Craig Harrison, a well-liked cleric who oversaw parishes in Bakersfield, Firebaugh and Merced.
“We are very aware that Monsignor Harrison is very powerful and very prominent and has been around the dioceses for many years,” Anderson said. “But we also know, as we allege in these lawsuits, that as powerful and prominent as he is, he is also a predator.”
Harrison resigned from his pastor position at St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield on Feb. 19 after battling allegations of sexual abuse for several years. The diocese placed him on administrative leave in April 2020 when the first allegations surfaced.
Anderson accused the Diocese of Fresno and Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of dragging their feet on the release of the list of accused priests.
“We are here not just to announce the lawsuits but to implore Bishop Brennan to release the list he has that he has chosen to keep secret,” Anderson said. “We implore the Bishop to release the list and the identities of priests who are credibly accused of childhood sexual abuse.”
In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs are identified as Joseph Doe 430 and Joseph Doe 429. Anderson alleges that while Harrison was the priest at St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield in 1990 he “repeatedly violated” a victim, who was 13 years old at the time.
“He was a devout Catholic who was under the control of Father Harrison,” Anderson said. “He was lured into rectory where Father Harrison violated him repeatedly and it happened on several occasions.”
The other alleged incident took place in the mid-’90s at St. Joseph Church in Firebaugh. Harrison is accused of sexually abusing a teenager between the ages of 15 and 17.
The alleged victims are seeking financial damages for physical and mental pain, loss wages, and past and future medical expenses.
HARRISON HAS DENIED ALLEGATIONS
Harrison’s attorney Craig Edmonston in Bakersfield could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but Harrison has steadfastly denied the allegations of sexual abuse.
Harrison sued the Fresno diocese for defamation late last year but a Fresno County judge dismissed the lawsuit in May.
Prosecutors in Fresno and Merced counties investigated Harrison in 2020 and 2019 respectively but did not file charges because the statute of limitations had expired. However, investigators with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office found the sexual abuse allegations credible.
Detectives with the Bakersfield Police Department did not recommend charges against Harrison.
On the civil side, changes in California law allow someone who is the alleged victim of childhood sexual abuse to sue their alleged abuser, but they must do it before the victim turns 40 or within five years of discovering the abuse as an adult.