CA Judge Orders Release of Accused Priest’s Records

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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 5, 2019   

Stephen Brady: 'I am delighted with the ruling'

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A California judge is ordering the Fresno diocese to release potentially damning documents regarding one of its priests who's facing multiple allegations of homosexual abuse.

Judge J. Eric Bradshaw of Kern Count Superior Court on Monday ruled that Fresno must turn over all documentation related to the following allegations against Msgr. Craig Harrison:

a) Complaints and records pertaining to plaintiff having sex with a minor

b) Complaints and records pertaining to plaintiff sexually abusing a minor

c) Complaints and records pertaining to the plaintiff gambling or having a gambling problem.

The documents were subpoenaed in September by Stephen Brady's attorney Paul Jonna after Brady was hit with a defamation lawsuit by Harrison in August. Bradshaw's ruling was required after both Harrison and his Fresno diocese had resisted the release of the accused priest's personnel file.

Brady, president and founder of the Catholic watchdog group, Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), told Church Militant he was pleased with the ruling.

"Obviously, I am delighted with the ruling," he said. "It will be very interesting to see, and very telling, if the documents that I am aware of are in those documents that are turned over." 

 

In his ruling on Monday, Bradshaw set Nov. 25 as the day when the diocese must bring the documentation to the courthouse in Bakersfield. The judge will then discuss with attorneys for both sides how Harrison's sensitive records will be made public.

Jonna had requested the documents to prove Brady's past comments were true and not defamatory. He also told Church Militant he was pleased with the judge's decision.

"We are pleased that the Court has ordered the Diocese of Fresno to turn over these records pertaining to Msgr. Harrison," remarked Jonna. "We look forward to receiving them and using them to defend Stephen Brady and Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc. in this meritless case filed by Harrison."

Brady had been investigating Harrison's suspicious activities for years. The Fresno diocese placed Harrison on administrative leave in April after allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused minors years prior. In May, Brady held a press conference in Bakersfield outlining certain allegations of Harrison's sexual impropriety with teenage boys when the priest was stationed in Firebaugh. 

Harrison, who is still under investigation by the diocese and by police departments in Firebaugh and Merced, sued Brady and RCF in August for defamation. He did so 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.

In response to the defamation lawsuit, Brady's attorney requested Harrison's personal records from the diocese. Harrison stonewalled the release of documents pertaining to Harrison's alleged "sexual abuse, drug use, therapy, gambling, addictive disorders, use of pornography, homosexual behavior and misuse of parish funds."

This must be a very difficult time for both the diocese and Msgr. Harrison.

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.

During the hearing on Oct. 24 on whether to release the records, Harrison's attorney Craig Edmonston told Judge Bradshaw that Jonna was "casting a wide net." Edmonston maintained his previous claims that the requests were "overbroad" and were unrelated to the allegations of sexual abuse.

Bradshaw's ruling on Monday did limit the records Fresno must turn over to just those related to Harrison's alleged sexual activity with minors and his alleged gambling habit. The judge "overruled," however, Edmonston's objection to the subpoena that "the requests are 'vague and ambiguous' and 'argumentative.'"

The Fresno diocese had resisted the release of Harrison's files owing to aspects of the First Amendment. Diocesan attorney Mart B. Oller IV said the files were protected under the rights of privacy. Oller also claimed the release of the documents could compromise the ongoing investigation by the diocese.

Bradshaw said in his ruling that it was "not readily apparent" how the argument by the diocese applied to this specific case. He did agree, however, to "consider comments from the Diocese on this issue" at the Nov. 25 hearing.

Jonna had previously stated that the documents would not be made public. He further noted the files could be redacted for privacy. But Brady couldn't be deprived of the evidence needed to prove his claims were true, Jonna emphasized.

If investigations would be compromised, remarked Jonna, then Harrison "should dismiss this case and file it later." 

Local plaintiff attorney Daniel Rodriguez agreed with Jonna.

"If you’re going to say, 'Hey, you can’t get to my personal records,' commented Rodriguez, "then fairness would require you to not file the lawsuit until the investigation is over."

He added, "Whenever someone is sued for defamation one of the defenses is you have to prove what I said is false. And I'm going to show that what I said was not false. So I need documents, evidence, facts to show that."

After Bradshaw's ruling, Brady said he felt sorry for Harrison, who only had himself to blame for launching the defamation suit against Brady and RCF.

"This must be a very difficult time for both the diocese and Msgr. Harrison," observed Brady. "But the whole situation was brought on by Harrison and his lawsuit."

 

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