Craig Harrison on list of credibly accused clergy in Diocese of Fresno

KSEE24 and CBS47/ [Fresno CA]

August 7, 2021

By Jason Kotowksi

FRESNO, Calif. (KGET) — Former Bakersfield priest Craig Harrison is on a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor released Friday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, the culmination of a two-year review of 2,800 clergy files.

Defense lawyer Kyle J. Humphrey, one of several attorneys who have spoken on Harrison’s behalf since allegations first surfaced in 2019, said from their standpoint the ex-priest’s inclusion was inevitable.

“They’ve never done a legitimate investigation,” Humphrey said of diocesan officials. “They’ve never interviewed (Harrison), allowed us to present witnesses or cross-examine accusers.”

The list contains information about 37 priests, deacons or members of a religious order credibly accused while serving in the Diocese of Fresno, officials said in a news release.

An additional 27 clerics and members of religious order are named who had no allegations brought against them while in the Fresno diocese but were credibly accused in other dioceses.

Bishop Joseph V. Brennan said in a letter posted online that the list is meant to be part of an ongoing healing process.

“We must do everything in our power to prevent instances of abuse from ever happening at any time or anywhere here in the Diocese of Fresno,” he wrote. “The efforts of our Safe Environment training and education of all clergy, employees, volunteers and our children and youth, to recognize signs of abuse and the appropriate response to abuse of any types is of the utmost importance.”

Attorneys have filed lawsuits alleging Harrison sexually assaulted two minors.

One suit says Harrison sexually assaulted a 13-year-old at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield in 1990. The other alleges Harrison sexually assaulted a teen over a three-year period in Firebaugh, beginning when the boy was 15. It says the abuse started in 1993.

Harrison, former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield, has denied the allegations. He resigned from the priesthood earlier this year.

Harrison was the subject of criminal investigations in three counties. Authorities in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced declined to file criminal charges due to the statute of limitations having expired or insufficient evidence.

Others on the list include retired priest Robert Gamel, who served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Christ the King in Bakersfield, Gerald Chavez, deceased, who served in Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Francis of Assisi in Bakersfield, and Eric V. Swearingen, who in 1987 was parochial vicar of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Letter from attorney Kyle Humphrey on behalf of Harrison:

While the Bishop’s profound lack of integrity is a tragedy for the faithful, we are not surprised to see him follow through on his outrageous threats of vindictive retaliation against Craig. As we previously warned everyone, the Bishop made it clear to us that despite there being no new evidence, if Craig did not shut down his business and disappear from public life, the Bishop would baselessly add him to the list of credibly accused priests. To be clear, we previously confirmed with the Church that at the conclusion of its investigation, Craig was NOT on this list and there was no intention by the Church to add him to this list. Since then, there has been no new information and no support whatsoever for the claim that the accusations are credible. To this date, the Bishop has refused to interview Craig or review any of the overwhelming evidence proving his innocence. Craig remains innocent, all information available to us supports his innocence, all information available to the Church supports his innocence, and the Bishop remains the same immoral actor he has been since the beginning of his tenure. This is nothing new.