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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A small California police department with close, longtime ties to a priest accused of homosexual predation has closed its investigation, finding "insufficient evidence."
"Right now it's a 'he said, she said' situation," said Bakersfield Police Department public information officer Nathan McCauley Thursday, who said the lack of physical evidence "to show the event occurred" prevents them from determining criminality. For this reason, they will not be forwarding the case to the Kern County prosecutor.
This is the second police investigation into Harrison that Bakersfield police have dropped. A 2002 allegation that he inappropriately touched several minors was closed after determining it was "unfounded."
Harrison has close ties to Bakersfield police, serving as their longtime chaplain as well as chaplain to the Kern County Sheriff's Office. In response to Church Militant's query about his role, McCauley wrote:
Monsignor Craig Harrison began acting as a chaplain for the Bakersfield Police Department in 2007. He remains on our roster of chaplains, but is not being used in any capacity while he is on administrative leave and active law enforcement investigations are being conducted involving him. He ceased to work in any capacity as a Chaplain as soon as he was placed on administrative leave.
An alleged victim of Harrison, who spoke with Church Militant on condition of anonymity, said the Bakersfield Police Department is compromised because of its longtime friendship with its chaplain, and that the police are biased in his favor and against victims.
The diocese of Fresno, whose investigation into Harrison remains ongoing, as do investigations by police departments in neighboring Firebaugh and Merced County, released a statement following the announcement: "Msgr. Harrison's status will remain the same while Firebaugh Police Department and Merced Police Department investigations continue. The Diocese is unable to make further comment at this time."
Harrison has been accused by at least six men of abuse, one of them a 43-year-old Iraq war veteran who claims the priest abused him when he was an altar boy at St. Francis Church in Bakersfield, from 1989–1992.
Another accuser, Br. Justin Gilligan, was once part of Harrison's inner circle, and went public in May with his experience:
I witnessed him being inappropriate with children, giving gifts/money, saying sexual jokes, touching, and being alone with them. … I have also witnessed him taking advantage and controlling the lives of younger men entrusted to him that have had drug or alcohol problems.
Harrison issued a public statement impugning Gilligan's character, accusing him of having problems with anger and drinking. When Church Militant contacted Gilligan for a response, he stood by his report, noting that in his initial testimony, he foretold that Harrison would attempt to smear his reputation.
Another alleged victim claims Harrison groped him on three occasions while he was an altar boy at St. Joseph Church in Firebaugh.
And a different accuser says Harrison abused him in 1988 when the priest was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Merced.
In addition to these claims, Harrison was the subject of an abuse allegation 20 years ago, which was investigated by the late Bp. John Steinbock — who had a reputation for covering up homosexual predation — and dismissed as not credible.
Newly installed Bp. Joseph Brennan wants the case re-opened and re-examined in light of the more recent allegations.
The 1998 allegation involved a male teen — a Latino from a poor family — who lived in the rectory of St. Joseph's Church in Firebaugh in the early 1990s, who claims Harrison would inspect his genitals each night under the pretext that the examination would reveal whether the boy had done drugs.
His allegation is identical to that of another boy who lived in one of Harrisons' homes for troubled teens.
A 2004 official report issued by former FBI agent Tom Walsh quotes a former resident of Harrison's boys' home, who said, that "every morning Harrison lined up all the boys who were residing in the house and examined each boy's testicles with a flashlight. Telling them that by doing this he could tell if any one of them was using narcotics."
The claim is identical to that of two more recent accusers.
Another alleged victim claims Harrison pinned him against the wall and rubbed his erect penis against him.
Most of the alleged victims are Latino males from troubled backgrounds, whom critics say Harrison took under his wing, taking advantage of their poverty and vulnerability to sexually prey on them.
The 2004 FBI investigator's report also cites evidence of at least one suicide of a boy who lived with Harrison. That suicide was independently corroborated by Br. Gilligan.
Harrison, who has denied the allegations, celebrated his victory at a press conference Thursday, saying in tears, "I want to begin by thanking God for giving me strength during these months. My faith has remained unwavering as I've struggled to deal with these false allegations against me."
His attorney, Kyle Humphrey, denigrated alleged victims of abuse in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and other scandal-ridden dioceses as part of an attempt to financially profit off of the Church.
"We anticipate that the well-oiled machinery of these accusers and the groups that they work with will continue to attack Craig [Harrison] as they do priests up and down the Valley," Humphrey said. "There's a pattern of monetizing claims against the Church; and in my research into attacks happening in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Boston, in Dallas, there's a pattern where a popular priest within the diocese is attacked first, to create a media frenzy."
When asked about how many accusers so far have come forward against Harrison, Humphrey said, "I don't want to comment on that."
Humphrey erroneously referred to the police department's decision to close the investigation as an "exoneration," even though Bakersfield police made clear there was no determination of guilt or innocence either way because of lack of physical evidence.
Humphrey also incorrectly claimed that the Merced County Police Department had closed its investigation. A reporter corrected Humphrey, confirming it had not finished the investigation. Church Militant reached out to the Merced County Police Department to confirm but received no response as of press time.