Five people allege abuse by Monsignor Craig Harrison, advocacy group says

By Stacey Shepard
Bakersfield Californian
May 6, 2019

Monsignor Craig Harrison delivers the invocation at the Liberty Bell downtown during a Victims Rights March.

A victims advocacy group has been contacted by five people in the past week who claim to be victims of sexual abuse by Monsignor Craig Harrison, according to a volunteer with the organization.

Esther Hatfield Miller, a native of Bakersfield, who is a volunteer leader for The Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests in California, said she's spoken directly with four people — one person who claimed abuse by Harrison in Bakersfield and three who say they were abused by Harrison in Merced and surrounding areas.

The fifth accuser contacted another SNAP volunteer on Monday, Hatfield Miller said.

Additional details of the allegations will come out in a news conference the group plans to hold Tuesday morning at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

Teresa Dominguez, communications director the Fresno diocese, said she hopes the victims who've contacted SNAP will also contact law enforcement where the abuse took place, and also contact the diocese. 

"The Diocese would also appreciate being informed so that we can provide the appropriate outreach," she said.

SNAP officials and attorneys who work with victims of church sex abuse said they do encourage victims to file reports with police but said some victims feel uncomfortable doing so. 

For example, Harrison has close ties with the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Office, where he serves as chaplain. 

Kyle Humphrey, an attorney for Harrison who also attends Harrison's church in Bakersfield, was not immediately available but has strongly denounced the accusations. 

"We welcome an honest investigation into these claims so that we can fully exonerate Monsignor Craig and restore him to his rightful position as pastor of St. Francis Parish," Humphrey said over the weekend.

Hatfield Miller said the alleged victims are all men who say they were abused by Harrison when they were minors. One man contacted her through Facebook after she commented on a story about Harrison, defending the initial victims who had come forward. 

The diocese first disclosed an allegation of sexual misconduct it received against Harrison on April 25, the day it placed the popular local priest on paid leave. That same day, it heard from a second man alleging abuse by Harrison in the late 1980s in Merced. And the diocese also disclosed a past allegation had been reported to police in Firebaugh, northwest of Fresno, in 1998.

It's unclear if the five alleged victims SNAP heard from are the same people in the allegations the diocese disclosed last week.

Hatfield Miller said two of the accusers she spoke to said they reported to the abuse to the diocese as far back as three decades ago, and a third reported it 14 years ago.

The news of accusations have roiled the community. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood posted on Facebook, "Remember, in our country, Innocent until PROVEN guilty!" Meanwhile hundreds of supporters rallied at a Wednesday service at St. Francis Church in support of Harrison. 

Incidentally, Hatfield Miller attended St. Francis Church as a child in Bakersfield before her family relocated to Southern California.

She herself is a victim of church sex abuse. She sued the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2003 for sexual abuse by a deacon in the LA area when she was a teenager, and received a multi-million dollar settlement. She said she used her settlement money to become a trauma recovery coach and now volunteers to help victims who come forward deal with the flood of emotions they experience.

She said she believes Harrison's accusers.

"I would bet all of my settlement money that they were telling the truth," she said. "I would lay it all down. ... The level of detail. You can’t make it up."



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