A Kern County Superior Court judge cleared the way for Monsignor Craig Harrison to proceed with a defamation case against a former assistant and member of his parish who claimed Harrison made sexual advances at him and acted inappropriately with children at church. The defendant's attorney quickly responded with plans to appeal the decision.
In a ruling last week, Judge Kenneth G. Pritchard denied an anti-SLAPP motion filed by the attorney for defendant Ryan Dixon, a former mentee of Harrison's who later became a Catholic monk known as Brother Justin Gilligan.
The slander suit filed against Dixon in September 2019 says he "negligently and maliciously" made false statements that have caused Harrison emotional and economic harm.
As recounted in Harrison's lawsuit, Gilligan said in May 2019 he was a victim of Harrison's "inappropriate touching, lies, manipulation and abuse of power." Gilligan further alleged he witnessed Harrison touching and being alone with children and giving them gifts and money.
Harrison has filed a separate defamation case against Stephen Brady, president and founder of Illinois-based Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., who has detailed allegations that Harrison had sexual contact with minors and would examine boys' private parts daily as a way of checking whether they had been using drugs. A third lawsuit has been filed against Harrison's employer, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, alleging that Teresa Dominguez, the chancellor and director of communications for the diocese, made defamatory statements about him.
To thwart Harrison’s lawsuit, Paul Jonna, the attorney for both Dixon and Brady, filed anti-SLAPP motions, which are typically used by defendants who have been sued by wealthy entities using the court system to intimidate or silence would-be witnesses or reporters.
Brady's anti-SLAPP motion was previously denied and is pending appeal before California’s 5th District Court of Appeal. Jonna said Wednesday he plans to appeal Dixon's anti-SLAPP motion as well.
Harrison has been on leave since April 2019 from his job as priest at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church pending investigations into sexual misconduct allegations against him. He has denied ever acting in a sexually inappropriate manner.
Harrison's suit against Gilligan seeks economic, exemplary and other damages in an amount to be determined in court.