Fresno-area priest resigns Catholic church amid lawsuit over misconduct investigation

A Diocese of Fresno priest accused of sexual misconduct but never criminally charged resigned from the church this week.

According to a statement from his attorney, Monsignor Craig Harrison handed his resignation for his pastor position at St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield.

“This decision has come after nearly two years of seeking due process and fair play from the Bishop,” the statement reads.

In a brief statement Friday, Diocese of Fresno officials acknowledged Harrison’s resignation, but said they wouldn’t comment on the matter.

Harrison is suing the Diocese of Fresno for defamation. He filed the lawsuit shortly after prosecutors in different jurisdictions declined to file criminal charges against Harrison over accusations of sexual abuse.

In early 2020, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office said no charges would be filed against Harrison because the statute of limitations had expired. However, the prosecutor’s office also said investigators found the sexual abuse allegations credible.

In late 2019, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office also said it wouldn’t file charges against Harrison because the statute of limitations had run out. In July of the same year, the Bakersfield Police Department decided not to recommend charges against Harrison in its jurisdiction.

Harrison was placed on administrative leave in April 2020 when the first allegations surfaced. At the time, an adult male accused him of inappropriately touching him at least three different times when he was a teenage altar boy in the late 1980s or early 1990s at St. Joseph Church in Firebaugh.

Officials with the Diocese of Fresno had declined to say what the job status for Harrison was and whether he remained on leave.

Harrison is one of several priests within the Diocese of Fresno who have been placed on administrative leave over sexual misconduct allegations. However, the diocese is one of only two in California that has not yet released a list to the public of priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse.

According to the Thursday statement, Harrison left the Diocese of Fresno on his own terms. He had served the Catholic church for 38 years.

Fresno Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, according to the statement, moved forward with disciplinary action against Harrison allegedly “for being disobedient by failing to drop his lawsuit.” The statement further alleges Brennan was punishing Harrison for causing hostility toward Brennan.

“Msgr. will not be intimidated by the pressure from the Bishop to drop his lawsuit against the Diocese and the Bishop personally,” the statement reads.

He alleges that Brennan never interviewed Harrison, never asked for evidence, and never spoke to “witnesses who could contradict the false allegations.” Harrison also accuses Brennan of failing his obligations and of sending a “one sided and incomplete investigation to Rome.”

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