Accused Fresno Priest Sues Roman Catholic Faithful

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  August 19, 2019   

Stephen Brady: 'I'm looking forward to the discovery process'

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FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California priest facing multiple allegations of homosexual abuse is suing a decades-old Catholic watchdog group Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF).

On Friday, RCF and its president, Stephen Brady, were served with a lawsuit from Msgr. Craig Harrison, a priest of the troubled diocese of Fresno, California. 

A statement by RCF acknowledges that Harrison is seeking "unlimited" damages for Brady's "appearance at a press conference in Bakersfield" that addressed "allegations of sexual misconduct" made against Harrison.

During the May conference, adds the statement, Brady "also discussed RCF's 2004 investigation of then-Fr. Harrison that he conducted with retired FBI agent Tom Walsh."

The lawsuit and summons were filed on Aug. 7, two weeks after the Bakersfield Police Department (BPD) concluded what critics are calling a sham investigation that exonerated Harrison. Brady, who's been investigating clerical corruption since the 1990s, told Church Militant that the lawsuit may be related to other ongoing RCF investigations.

"My first thought was the hierarchy must be behind this and I'm getting a little too close to too much information," remarked Brady.


A 114-page investigative report obtained by Church Militant from BPD shows its investigation of Harrison, who has served as BPD's chaplain, ignored 42 witnesses. Randy Petris, who headed the investigation, interviewed some 14 witnesses only.

Brady told Church Militant that dozens of witnesses have information pertaining to Harrison's case and need to be interviewed.

"There are almost 50 witnesses against Fr. Harrison with information on some 10 allegations against him," said Brady. "I'm looking forward to the discovery process if it goes that far."

In addition to these witnesses, Brady said there is also his 2004 investigation of Harrison that involved teaming up with former FBI agent Walsh.

"I believe this is nothing more than costly intimidation," observed Brady. "God willing, this will work out for the best."

Harrison was put on paid administrative leave on April 25 owing to an accusation that he had sexually assaulted an altar boy. The diocese announced it would also re-examine a previous claim of abuse against Harrison made years earlier that had been dismissed as non-credible.

After Harrison was put on leave, numerous men brought forth claims that he had sexually assaulted them. In June, Harrison was one of 43 priests from the Fresno diocese named in a lawsuit by the Jeff Anderson & Associates law firm that specializes in clerical sex abuse cases.

Brady knows it will be a costly fight, but he fully expects to be vindicated in court. He also said there's a good possibility that the case will be thrown out owing to California's anti-SLAPP statute, which stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. This statute can be invoked when a lawsuit is "brought primarily to discourage speech about issues of public significance."
 
I'm looking forward to the discovery process.


Brady told Church Militant he won't be silenced when speaking out against corruption in the Church. He also noted he has limited resources to fight a lengthy court battle.

"I'm going to work on getting this lawsuit thrown out as soon as possible based on the SLAPP law in California," he said.

The RCF reveals that it operates "solely on the generosity of faithful Catholics" and sums up the financial burden that will come with fighting Harrison's lawsuit: "This litigation has the potential to run into the tens of thousands of dollars — just to respond to what we maintain are unjust accusations of defamation — simply for requesting additional information from possible victims," it said.

The group credited with unseating the infamous Bp. Daniel Ryan from Springfield, Illinois, is asking for financial help to fight Harrison's lawsuit.

"No one draws a salary, and every dollar we collect goes directly to fighting on behalf of faithful Catholics everywhere," says RCF. "Please donate today. Every donation, large or small, counts and is greatly appreciated! God bless you for your support!"

Even though the BPD is done investigating Harrison, both the Firebaugh and Merced police departments are continuing their investigations into separate allegations against Harrison. The Fresno diocese is looking into these further claims as it decides if Harrison is fit to be returned to active ministry.

 

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