Accused Priest Objects to Subpoenas in Defamation Lawsuit

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 12, 2019   

Msgr. Craig Harrison doesn't want diocese to turn over documents on alleged drug use, porn habit and homosexuality

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FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - After suing a Catholic watchdog group for defamation, a California priest facing multiple allegations of homosexual abuse is trying to block the release of potentially damning documents by his Fresno diocese.

Through his attorney, Paul Jonna, Stephen Brady and his organization Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF) subpoenaed the Fresno diocese on Sept. 3 for documents pertaining to Harrison's alleged "sexual abuse, drug use, therapy, gambling, addictive disorders, use of pornography, homosexual behavior and misuse of parish funds."

If Harrison's innocent of the charges, as he contends, then he should have no problem allowing the diocese to turn the documents over.

Harrison's lawyer, Craig Edmonston, filed an objection two days later, asserting the subpoena requests were overbroad, vague and ambiguous. Edmonston further claimed that requesting such documents violates Harrison's right to privacy and is "not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence."

Church Militant spoke with Jonna, who said if Harrison has nothing to hide then he would readily release these documents:

Harrison sued our clients for defamation in a frivolous case that seeks to intimidate and silence both Harrison's potential abuse victims and any journalist or citizen that dares to report on the subject. We served the diocese with a subpoena seeking Harrison's personnel file and documents regarding the subjects that Harrison claims are false. The subpoena seeks documents that are discoverable in this case and narrowly tailored to the allegations at issue. If Harrison's innocent of the charges, as he contends, then he should have no problem allowing the diocese to turn the documents over.


 

Harrison sued Brady following a May conference in Bakersfield, California, where Brady discussed RCF's 2004 investigation of then-Fr. Harrison that he conducted with retired FBI agent Tom Walsh, which uncovered alleged homosexual abuse and also reportedly linked Harrison to a suicide. A previous statement by RCF acknowledged that Harrison sought "unlimited" damages for Brady's "appearance at a press conference in Bakersfield" that addressed "allegations of sexual misconduct" made against Harrison.

"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."

Jonna says Harrison's lawsuit is frivolous and designed to silence Brady.

"His objection suggests to us," said Jonna, "that (1) he's very worried about having the files turned over and (2) he didn't consider the consequences of filing this lawsuit — particularly during ongoing investigations by law enforcement and his own diocese."

Once we get the records, Harrison will have to sit for a deposition and answer questions about the allegations under oath.

In addition to documents pertaining to allegations of Harrison's homosexual abuse, there are others pertaining to allegations of his financial misdeeds. Documents subpoenaed by Jonna also relate to the following alleged activities of Harrison:

  • Gambling
  • Misuse of parish funds
  • Accumulation of excessive wealth
  • Being the heir or beneficiary of parishioners' wills

Jonna explains what will happen if Harrison keeps stonewalling the release of documents pertaining to the above allegations:

If the records aren't promptly turned over, we will file a motion to compel and seek sanctions. Once we get the records, Harrison will have to sit for a deposition and answer questions about the allegations under oath. Ultimately, though, we're confident this case will be dismissed because it's an assault against the First Amendment.

Brady told Church Militant he really is Harrison's best friend.

"I may be one of the best friend Msgr. Harrison has," said Brady. "Telling someone the truth, although it may sometimes be painful, is sometimes the kindest thing we can do. In Harrison's case, I was looking for the truth and nothing more regardless of where it leads."

Brady says RCF has recently received its tax-exempt status. Donations to RCF and its legal defense fund can be made using this link.

 

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