An investigation report released this week by the Bakersfield Police Department paints two seemingly irreconcilable pictures of the Rev. Craig Harrison: a hands-off father figure who preached tough love while rewarding good behavior, or a sexual predator who groomed his victims using guilt and gifts.
In the end, there was no need to decide which view was more accurate because a detective assigned to the case concluded he could not find corroborating evidence the popular priest had touched anyone inappropriately.
Adding to the ambiguity, the recently closed investigation of the priest's actions in Bakersfield ended with a finding that certain "inappropriate acts" Harrison was accused of were actually legal. Plus, a determination was made that some acts Harrison was alleged to have committed occurred too long ago to be prosecuted.
The report's conclusions appear to fall short of the full vindication Harrison and his supporters have claimed as they await the results of investigations police in Firebaugh and Merced are conducting into similar accusations allegedly stemming from his time as a clergyman in those cities.
Harrison and his attorneys maintain he has never acted inappropriately and that the accusations against him originate with a group of people set on destroying his reputation and collecting payments from the Catholic Church.
Kyle Humphrey, Harrison's primary attorney, said Wednesday he has not had a chance to fully vet the investigation report but that he believes the accusations against Harrison are false.
"There is no evidence other than anonymous or otherwise types of accusations and it's consistent with the patterns that I see in other cases that are brought attacking the Catholic Church," Humphrey said. He added he is grateful for the work the BPD put into the investigation and that he believes Harrison has been exonerated.
"The only people who don't see full exoneration are the people with an agenda who believe an accuser no matter what," he said.
Removed in April from his duties as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on H Street, Harrison remains on paid leave by orders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
According to a BPD investigative report 114 pages in length, much of the recent investigation focused on allegations made by three individuals who were young men at the time of the alleged sexual abuse.
One of the alleged victims, an altar-server at St. Francis, described being grabbed from behind by Harrison as the then-17-year-old was putting away items in the church's sacristy. He accused Harrison of grinding against his buttocks and back with an erection on eight to 10 different occasions, each time lasting one to two minutes.
The young man, now a 43-year-old living in Texas, told the BPD detective Harrison gave him money, food and gifts, including a 1979 Ford Bronco and a 1995 or 1996 Ford Mustang. He said Harrison never tried to kiss him or expose his penis and that he never tried to touch the young man's private parts.
On the contrary, Harrison told the investigator he was never alone with minors at the church and that although parishioners did receive vehicles, they were gifts from the church, not from him directly.
Another individual who reported being 14 at the time Harrison allegedly sexually abused him for the first time said he had gone to see the priest for a blessing. While the two sat together, Harrison allegedly started rubbing the boy's knee, prompting him to pull away from the priest.
About two years later, after the boy's parents sent him to talk with Harrison about the young man's recent theft of $200 from a relative, the priest allegedly had him sit on his lap.
The teen told the detective Harrison starting massaging his back. When the young man pulled away, Harrison allegedly asked what the problem was and made him feel bad about distrusting the priest.
As he continued to sit on Harrison's lap, according to the report, the priest put his hand in his pocket and made a rubbing motion that made a jingling sound. The young man quickly got up, as did Harrison, and the boy said he noticed the priest had an erection.
The accuser went on to tell the police investigator Harrison never rubbed his penis against him or tried to touch the boy's private parts.
Another accuser, Ryan Dixon, who has spoken out publicly against Harrison, said the priest would give him $200 or $300 at a time "for no reason." During a three-person trip to attend a wedding in San Francisco, he said Harrison ended up having to share a bed together while the third person slept on a cot, which was the only other bed available in their hotel room.
(The Californian does not usually disclose the names of alleged sexual abuse victims but has done so in this case because Dixon has spoken up publicly against Harrison.)
While they lay side by side on the bed, he said, Harrison put his hand on Dixon's chest and rubbed it for about 15 minutes. Dixon said he never resisted because he was "frozen" and didn't know what to do.
Dixon also told the detective Harrison made sexual jokes on other occasions and that he witnessed the priest tickling minors on their stomach area, pinching their upper thighs and giving them inappropriately long bear hugs.
Others interviewed by the BPD detective said they never witnessed Harrison touching children inappropriately or being alone with them at the church. Some said they had heard rumors of inappropriate contact by Harrison, while others had not.
When Harrison was interviewed by the detective June 17, he said he "is not an affectionate person" and would never hug, wrestle or bear hug young parishioners.
He denied ever having an erection around a minor or being alone with one inside the church. He recalled having surveillance cameras installed at the church and replacing a wall with a glass panel as a way of guarding against sexual abuse allegations.