Diocese reportedly tells Harrison to stop offering local spiritual counseling

Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield.com)

June 18, 2021

By John Cox

Accused former priest Craig Harrison has been told by his previous boss at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno to shut down his counseling business and stop serving in a nonprofit that ministers to women because such activities might sow confusion and scandal, according to a statement released Friday by Harrison’s attorneys.

The statement also said his lawyers have received word from the Catholic Church that Harrison will not be named on a soon-to-be released list of priests credibly accused of sexual improprieties.

The diocese’s chancellor declined to confirm either assertion, about the list or any attempt to call off Harrison’s spiritual consulting activities, and declined to address them. She said the list of accused priests is still being finalized.

“I will not make any comment about who’s on the list and who’s not on the list,” Chancellor Cheryl Sarkisian said.

Harrison has repeatedly denied he has ever had inappropriate sexual contact with anyone.

The diocese placed Harrison on paid administrative leave in April 2019 following a report he had inappropriate sexual contact with a minor. Then, after a series of further accusations and counter-accusations, Harrison resigned in February of this year as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield, where he worked since 1999. He now offers spiritual counseling services while also participating in a nonprofit called Reflections for Women.

His attorneys stated in Friday’s news release that Harrison has a “fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of association, and he is entitled to pursue a living.”

“He will continue to pray openly with others, and to comfort and guide the community members who look to him for support,” it continues. “He will not abandon this community or his Christian faith.”

The release characterized the correspondence it attributed to Bishop Joseph V. Brennan as “yet another threatening letter” from the diocese and asserted the bishop “appears to be threatening to publicly defame Father Craig, a private citizen.”

It went on to say Harrison’s legal team worries the bishop will “baselessly and retroactively” add Harrison to the list of credibly accused priests if the former priest does not comply with Brennan’s demands.

Also included in the release is a statement of incredulity at the bishop’s implication that members of the local community might confuse Harrison with an ordained priest in good standing within the church.

“Our community is well aware that Father Craig very publicly resigned from his position as a Catholic priest in response to the bishop’s untenable prior demands, including the demand that Father Craig refrain from praying openly with others,” he said.

Even so, it said, his attorneys have advised Harrison to publicly post a disclaimer “to dispel any confusion Bishop Brennan has imagined.”

Earlier this month two unnamed plaintiffs filed lawsuits alleging Harrison sexually assaulted them as minors with the acquiescence of his former supervisors at the diocese. The accusations, otherwise barred from criminal prosecution by statutes of limitations, are allowed under the terms of a 2019 law giving survivors of alleged childhood sexual assault until the end of 2022 to pursue civil claims against those they accuse.

Craig Harrison delivers an emotional address during a news conference at the law offices of Kyle J. Humphrey near downtown Bakersfield in February.  Nick Ellis / For The Californian
Craig Harrison delivers an emotional address during a news conference at the law offices of Kyle J. Humphrey near downtown Bakersfield in February. –Nick Ellis / For The Californian