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Monsignor Harrison sues Diocese of Fresno and its chancellor

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Monsignor Craig Harrison during a June 2019 interview.

Monsignor Craig Harrison filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno and Teresa Dominguez, the chancellor/director of communications for the diocese.

According to a news release sent by Harrison’s attorneys, the lawsuit alleges Dominguez made defamatory statements on behalf of the Fresno Diocese in a May 2019 article on the website KQED.org. The lawsuit was filed in Kern County Superior Court.

Representatives of the diocese did not return messages seeking comment Thursday. 

The lawsuit states that in the May 19, 2019, article, Dominguez said she visited the house of one of Harrison’s alleged victims to apologize. According to the lawsuit, Dominguez said she personally expressed her concern for the alleged victim and told him that she believed him and apologized for the pain the alleged incident caused.

“I told him that I will support him and be an advocate for him in any way that I can,” Dominguez said, according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit says that because of the “aforementioned false, defamatory, libelous and slanderous statements, plaintiff Craig Harrison has sustained general and non-economic damages for past present and future emotional distress, anxiety, shame, humiliation, and mortification all to his general damage in an amount according to proof.”

"When an employee is falsely accused of being a child abuser and the employer says, 'I believe the accuser,' that’s defamatory under California law," said one of Harrison's attorneys, Craig Edmonston.

In April, Harrison was placed on administrative leave by the Fresno Diocese after it announced it had received a report of sexual misconduct that allegedly happened three decades ago. Following that announcement, the diocese received more allegations and the alleged victims were instructed to file police reports to the agency where the alleged abuse occurred.

The diocese also is undertaking its own investigation of Harrison, which has not yet been completed.

Harrison has denied all the allegations made against him. He fought back by filing two defamation lawsuits last year — one against Steven Brady, a Catholic activist, and another against Ryan Dixon, who worked alongside Harrison at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield.