Monsignor Craig Harrison, in a public statement Thursday defending himself against accusations of sexual misconduct, expressed sadness at having been "left to fight without support" from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
In a two-page letter issued mid-afternoon by his lead attorney almost a full month after he was suspended from his position as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield, Harrison stated diocese officials have not given him the opportunity to share his own side of the story.
"In fact, neither (former) Bishop (Armando X.) Ochoa, Bishop (Joseph V.) Brennan nor any member of the Diocese has checked on my state of mind or welfare," he wrote.
"I have not been invited to respond or provide evidence to the Diocese," he continued. "Out of respect for the investigation, I have remained silent."
Teresa Dominguez, spokesperson for the Fresno diocese, said Harrison is aware the diocese is in transition as Ochoa retires and Brennan is installed as the new bishop.
"Bishop Brennan will be in contact with Msgr. Harrison," Dominguez said. "In the meantime, Msgr. Harrison knows that he can also initiate contact at any time to set an appointment to meet with the bishop."
Harrison stated he has agonized daily, even as he continues to be "lifted up by the support from my community through your letters, phone calls, emails and most importantly your prayers."
The letter says Harrison plans to return soon to his home in Bakersfield to assist his attorney in "proving my innocence."
Harrison released the statement two days after news reports quoted a former Bakersfield man now living in an Oregon monastery saying he witnessed Harrison touching and behaving inappropriately with minors.
The man, Ryan Dixon, who now goes by the name Brother Justin Gilligan, declined to provide details about what he allegedly saw, citing legal concerns.
Harrison said in his written statement that Dixon drank frequently and excessively, "embarrassing himself with his crude language and behavior."
"I reprimanded him and that day he left in anger," Harrison stated. "I have had little contact with him since, other than to encourage him in his faith path."
The letter says Dixon was obligated as a seminarian to report any misconduct, which he failed to do. "He did not report because nothing happened," Harrison wrote.
A board member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which advocates for victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic church, criticized the "mean-spirited" comments in Harrison's statement Thursday.
"A person can defend himself without attacking others. That's what Jesus would do. That's the precise opposite of what Msgr. Harrison is doing," SNAP board member Dan McNevin said by email.
Harrison's lead attorney, Kyle J. Humphrey, said he is working with several prominent lawyers in Harrison's defense. Among them are criminal defense attorneys H.A. Sala, David Torres and Jared Thompson.