The Bakersfield Police Department has found no "criminal behavior with corroborative evidence" in a case of alleged sexual battery by Monsignor Craig Harrison against a minor in the 1990s, and the case is closed at this time, the department said Thursday.
Within minutes of BPD's announcement, Harrison spoke about the accusations against him during a press conference outside his attorney's office, flanked by his children and grandchildren.
"My faith has remained unwavering as I've struggled to deal with the false allegations against me," he said in his statement, a copy of which was given to The Californian.
Wearing a dark blue suit jacket and light-colored dress shirt, Harrison also thanked the police for their hard work and leaving no stone unturned during the investigation.
"Accusations are easy to make but they're very difficult to defend," Harrison said. "I have been defamed, I've been slandered, libeled and irreparably harmed by these false accusers and those supporting them."
Harrison's attorney Kyle Humphrey echoed that sentiment, saying the allegations "smeared mud" on a local icon.
"It's a day of celebration. We knew it was coming because we've known from day one he didn't do any of these things people are accusing him of," Humphrey said. "It's just a wonderful day for his family, for him. It's painful to see how much damage has happened to him."
BPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Nathan McCauley said the investigation turned up no hard evidence of sexual battery, such as photos or videos.
"Right now it's a 'he said, she said' situation," he said.
However, Harrison will still remain on paid leave from his position with St. Francis Church, said Teresa Dominguez, a spokeswoman for The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. She said that investigations of other abuse alleged against the priest are still ongoing with the Firebaugh and Merced police. The diocese is also conducting its own internal review of past allegations against priests, including Harrison.
The only known allegations against Harrison in Bakersfield were brought by a Texas man who grew up in Bakersfield and served as an altar boy under Harrison at St. Francis Church in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The man, who previously told his story to The Californian on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Thursday that it was his case the Bakersfield Police had closed.
Reached Thursday, the man said police only told him the case was outside the statute of limitations and did not mention a lack of evidence.
"It's just very convenient," the man wrote in a text message, referring to the fact that Harrison is close with local police, having served as the department's chaplain since 2007.
The man's attorney, Joseph George Sr. of Sacramento, said Thursday that Harrison was "enmeshed" with BPD.
The man, a 43-year-old Iraq war veteran, previously told The Californian he was abused over four years by Harrison while as an altar boy at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The man said he was the child of a poor, single mother and Harrison would give his mother money and groceries. The abuse started out as roughhousing in the parish rectory and escalated to groin-to-groin rubbing through clothes, he alleged. The man also said Harrison gave him money and alcohol, among other things, and later gave him two cars, wanted to adopt him, and offered to pay for his college.
The accusations against Harrison, a popular and beloved priest and native of Bakersfield, first came to light on April 25 when The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno placed him on paid administrative leave. The suspension came after a man contacted the diocese alleging that Harrison touched him on three separate occasions while serving as an altar boy at St. Joseph in Firebaugh decades ago.
Harrison has denied all allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct against him.
Shortly after Harrison was placed on leave, another man contacted the diocese alleging "inappropriate behavior" when he was a minor at St. Patrick's Church in Merced in 1988.
And another man reported to Firebaugh police in 1998 that Harrison abused him at St. Joseph. The accuser came forward again in 2002 to report it to the diocese, which investigated and deemed the claim unsubstantiated. The Fresno diocese revisited those accusations in May, however, and the status of the investigation is unknown.
Harrison served as pastor at St. Joseph from July 1, 1992 to June 30, 1999. He worked at Our Lady of Mercy, St. Patrick's and Sacred Heart in Merced between Sept. 12, 1987 and June 21, 1989. Harrison has worked two stints at St. Francis in Bakersfield, once from June 22, 1989 to Oct. 16, 1991 and then again starting July 1, 1999.
Sam Morgen contributed to this report