Monsignor Craig Harrison, the popular pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church for nearly two decades, has been put on paid leave for investigation of sexual misconduct with a minor, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.

In a media release, the diocese said it had received an allegation on April 12 of sexual misconduct by a man who was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse. The diocese said it reported the matter on April 15 to the police in Firebaugh, a small community northwest of Fresno.

The Firebaugh Police Department confirmed it's investigating reports from a victim who said he was inappropriately touched by Harrison when he was 14 to 16 years old.

Harrison, 59, who has served at St. Francis since July 1999, previously was pastor of St. Joseph in Firebaugh, according to the St. Francis of Assisi website. The diocese said he also served at Our Lady of Mercy, St. Patrick's and Sacred Heart in Merced, as well as at St. Francis in Mojave.

The diocese also is conducting an internal investigation.

‘I WILL VIGOROUSLY DEFEND MY HONOR’

Harrison answered the door at his downtown home just before 9 a.m. Thursday, before the Fresno Diocese confirmed he was on leave. Harrison was on his cellphone and looked shaken. He told a reporter he hadn't heard anything about being placed on leave and was trying to find out more information.

Later on Facebook, Harrison vigorously defended his honor and wrote that he looked forward to his name being cleared.

He wrote: "Dear Friends,

"I just learned that I am on temporary administrative leave of my duties at St. Francis Parish, pending an investigation into allegations brought against me," he wrote.

"I do not know the motives of my accusers, any names, or the contents of any allegations against me.

"I will vigorously defend my honor from these allegations and look forward to my good name being cleared. Please keep me in your prayers during this trying time."

More than 420 comments were left on the post within two hours, nearly all supporting and defending Harrison. 

"I have complete faith in god that you will be cleared from this and back to cracking jokes at mass in no time," wrote Mike England. "We have your back and are here for you if you need anything."

"God has your back... I'm sure this is just a horrible misunderstanding," wrote Jeannie Fluetsch Bliss.

Monsignor Perry Kavookjian of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton also defended his fellow priest. In a Facebook post, he wrote: 

"I have known Msgr. Craig for over 35 years. During his years of priesthood, he has never, to my knowledge, done anything to bring harm to another person. Just the opposite. He has done more than most Catholic clergy to protect, defend and assist young people."

He added, "He has adopted children and has numerous grandchildren. In the various parishes he has served through the years, youth ministries have thrived. To think that he would somehow take advantage of a minor is beyond credibility. He is admired and respected as a Catholic priest and good man throughout our Diocese."

SCRUTINY OF DIOCESE’S RESPONSE

Meanwhile, David Clohessy, the former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called The Californian to express his outrage at officials in the Fresno Diocese for waiting three days before contacting Firebaugh police once it learned of the allegations.  

"I'm just appalled," he said. "Three days is an awfully long time for any predator to destroy evidence, fabricate alibis, intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers ... even flee the country as literally dozens of accused predator priests have done over the years."

Cheryl Sarkisian, executive assistant at the Fresno Diocese, defended the diocese's handling of the allegation. 

"We follow mandated reporting law, which is if we become aware that minor abuse happened, we contact police right away," she said.

"We did it as early as we were able to. It was late Friday" when the allegation was received, she said.

"Monday is when we were (at the police station) in the morning."

The diocese plans to officially notify parishioners at churches where Harrison has served during Mass this weekend.

Sarkisian acknowledged that the news about Harrison is difficult for parishioners to process but that the church remains a resource and support.

"We're there to continue to let life go on," she said. "Nothing has changed about bringing Christ to people ... we're still there and doing that."

This is the second recent allegation to rock the local Catholic community. 

The Rev. Miguel Flores of east Bakersfield's St. Joseph Catholic Church was placed on administrative leave after senior church officials decided to take another look at 17-year-old sexual misconduct allegations involving him and a then-16-year-old girl. Church officials shared the news with parishioners on March 3.

The Fresno Bee has reported that an additional three priests in the Fresno Diocese are also currently on leave and under investigation. They are the Rev. John Michael Listiri, the Rev. Ricardo Magdaleno and the Rev. Gaspar Bautista. Magdaleno's investigation is not related to a sex offense, according to his attorney. 

HARRISON IS ‘DEVASTATED’

Harrison, a Bakersfield native and Bakersfield High School graduate who became a Roman Catholic priest in 1987, is an immensely popular figure in the local Catholic community.

He serves as a chaplain for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and Bakersfield Police Department. He is a foster care advocate, the father of eight adopted children, and is the 2010 recipient of the Bishops Award for Catholic Charities.

He is being represented by Bakersfield defense attorney Kyle J. Humphrey, who said Thursday afternoon that the pastor is devastated by the allegations.

"It's like those people whose houses are destroyed in floods when the creek overflows," Humphrey said. "The rug was pulled out from under him."

"He can't be there to do the wedding and funerals he was scheduled to do this week. He let (people) down for things beyond his control in a system that I think is because of our climate of fear."

Humphrey, who is a St. Francis parishioner and friend of Harrison, said the Catholic Church was slow to respond to public pressure from the sexual abuse scandals and has now overcorrected in its response, and errs heavily on the side of the accuser. He said due process and the presumption of innocence for the accused is lost in the process.

"The truth is," Humphrey said, "he's worthy of far better treatment than he's received."

Stacey Shepard can be reached at 661-395-7417.

(28) comments

Jerry Todd

Only negatives generally posted here. My support of Msgr Harrison cut.

REMUDA

" . . . 17-year-old sexual misconduct allegations . . . "

" . . . he was inappropriately touched by Harrison when he was 14 to 16 years old."
---
" . . . and a then-16-year-old girl."
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Very confusing . . . much ado about Monsignor "he (boy)" . . . or . . . "girl (she)" . . . or . . . both . . . ?
-----
Also . . . "man" . . . & . . . "girl" (whomever . . . neither named?) are no longer 'minors' (protected -- 17 years later?) so where are their 'interviews' . . . ?
------
Very confusing . . . ! My reaction . . . if interested . . . and who and how was this brought to "The News" . . . ?
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BRAVO SIERRA . . . !

ConcernedCatholic

https://abc30.com/bakersfield-monsignor-accused-of-sexual-misconduct-with-a-minor/5270713/

"Action News has learned another accuser came forward alleging misconduct when the priest worked in Merced."

???????????? Anyone going to report this??

Rayovac

Well, he hired the right attorney. Kyle Humphries is a certified bada** when it comes to things like this. Thank God he got the right guy to help him. I sincerely hope Monsignor Craig is innocent of these charges.

clsoca

If the allegations are true, then you can't trust anybody. Let's hope its just somebody tying to get a "payday."

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

This dangerous cult called Catholicism, with it’s non biblical rules of priest celibacy and literal worship of statues and relics and idols, which raises 600 million in 3 days to fix a burned out building while millions starve in Catholic countries must be stopped. These so called seminaries are the perfect hiding place for closet homosexuals and child predators. Grown men should NEVER be alone with children they aren’t directly related to, and any job that forces a man who has no apparent interest in normal sex wih actual women to declare celibacy and wear ridiculous costumes and girly robes should be immediately outlawed.

Copper

The ignorance is obvious is this one. Not a Catholic myself but attacking someone religion when ALL religions and fellow humans are guilty of the exact same thing. Child molestors hide in every religion and organizations like scouts , sports etc. and we as collective humans allow other humans to starve when 40 percent of food is thrown out as waste. When we allow grotesquely large bonuses to already gluttonously wealthy CEO ‘s instead of spreading the bonuses to the lowest wage earners in the company. And those who keep voting in the politicians that protect the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans and keep a nearly starved working class oppressed and impoverished.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Thanks for providing proof that even brain dead people can troll the Internet...

Copper

Insulting us but an intelligent debate if point. So who is brain dead? What point do you not agree with and why? Or us that to deep for you to answer besides a kindergarten level insult.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Apologies to @Copper- that wasn't supposed to be reply to you, it was intended as a reply to CC of B. Not sure why it was moved down- when originally posted, it was where it should've been...

Copper

Accepted . Thanks.

Copper

Also apologies this issue is a very big trigger for myself and I’m sure many others as well. Support should be given in private to accused if someone chooses to support them otherwise the only thing that should be said publicly particularly from leaders in the community should be “we support all victims of abuse and support their right to speak up against any perpetrator of the abuse. “that’s it that is all that should have been said. When you have the Sheriff and other well known priests and hundreds of people in the community publicly saying “ oh it can’t be true” only perpetuates victim shaming . I don’t care if a person personally believes this or not they should shut their mouths period. Of course it is the attorneys job to defend his client but it’s no one else job to do that. If it keeps 1 person from having the courage to come forward without fear of retribution, you are guilty of enabling and protecting perpetrators of abuse.

bakoreader

Why don’t you do your job as a reporter, ask Sarkisian the obvious follow up question—police departments are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, why did they wait until Monday??

Rayovac

Because they are well aware of who they need to report this to and how to do it. So they know that it would have been pointless to walk into the police department after hours and report this to the weekend staff. I mean they could have, but it would have been for show to make people like you feel better. They are probably over all that at this point though.

Boris25

Whether or not Craig Harrison is guilty or innocent, this is a tragedy. If he did what has been alleged , he violated his oaths and public trust. Therein, deserves what ever punishment is given. If he is innocent, how does he ever get his good name back?

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

I can’t stop laughing at all the losers in the Kern County courts building soiling themselves over yet another pedophile priest...

dogmom85

These comments are disgusting. Is he not presumed innocent? Do we automatically believe EVERYTHING now? No evidence, proof, corroboration; just guilty by the public court. He hasn't been charged with a thing. You guys should be ashamed of yourself.

Muhammad Fatwa al Jihad

There will be an investigation. Until the results are in, there is only speculation by the Californian readers. Get a grip folks.

Muhammad Fatwa al Jihad

From the Fresno Bee: Rev. Monsignor Craig Francis Harrison is being investigated after the allegation was made this month by an adult male, who was a minor when the alleged offense happened, according to a statement from the diocese.

Harrison currently serves at St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield. “I can confirm that there was a report taken, Monday April 15,” said Raquel Tabares, Firebaugh police records supervisor and lead dispatcher. “Right now, (the investigation) is still in the fact-finding stage.”

In a Firebaugh police’s news release issued mid-day Thursday, police say the alleged victim was allegedly inappropriately touched when he was 14 to 16 years old.

The diocese in its statement said the allegation was reported to its staff on April 12. The diocese reported it to the Firebaugh police three days later.

Read more here: https://www.fresnobee.com/news/article229675924.html#storylink=cpy

Copper

When are parents going to stop allowing priests, scout leaders , coaches etc. unsupervised access to their child. It’s not that the occupation turns them into predators it’s that predators are attracted to these leadership roles so they have easy access to our children.

SNAPJudy

Let's hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed by Msgr.Craig Harrison and/or Fr Miguel Flores will find the courage to come forward and contact law enforcement no matter how long ago it happened. Keep in mind that silence only hurts but by speaking up there is a chance for healing and protecting others today.
Judy Jones, SNAP "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests" 636-433-2511, SNAPjudy@gmail.com

gnormanjr

Bravo! That message is very important. By not speaking up their behavior is enabled. This must stop.

barbara meuleman-girga

Why can't the priests marry, to get rid of their desires in the normal way. Or at least don't take a vow of celibacy. THAT never works. God gave us emotions, desires and men .. lots so testosterone. Celibacy HAS NEVER worked, and wasn't meant to. Read your Bible...

gnormanjr

Barbara,
Exactly. Men can be celibate for hours not lifetimes. The reason the abuse cases are mostly boys is that those are the ones they have access to.

Copper

In the Middle Ages around 1100 a Pope decided to ban priests from marrying or being married as to not have to support spouses and children even go so far as separating families. Some say even killing or selling them into slavery. Orthodox and episcopal priests can marry. Any Pope can overturn this outdated and violently applied church law. Also married men do molest children.

gnormanjr

When are we as Christians going to address the elephant in the room? I was baptized Catholic and married a Greek Orthodox. Same religion. The difference is to be a priest in the Orthodox church you have to be married. You can not pray away sexual desires. One simple and logical change would eliminate all of the problems the church has had for centuries.

Copper

There are many married Baptist pastors , coaches , and scout leaders guilty of moldering children. Not just catholic priests. Putting your children in vulnerable positions just because someone is charismatic and nice doesn’t mean they aren’t a molestor. That’s very ignorant assumption. Parents have to be be diligent about allowing their children to be alone and unsupervised with adults.

Athanasios

Just a correction. An Orthodox priest has the choice to marry, but must make that choice before they are ordained. And, as to “same religion”, they once were but there are now very substantive differences between the two faiths, mostly as the result of “reforms” as you mentioned above done by the Catholic Church.

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