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FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - An accused predator priest has lost his defamation lawsuit against the diocese of Fresno, California.
In a ruling issued Friday by Judge Kristi Kapetan of the Superior Court of California, the judge struck down Harrison's claim of defamation, dismissing it as essentially baseless.
"Plaintiff does not show that Dominguez's statements to the reporter, which were republished in on article by KQED, constitute actionable defamation," the court held, referring to 2019 comments made by Teresa Dominguez, former diocesan spokeswoman, to a San Francisco radio station in 2019.
"I personally expressed my concern for him [the alleged victim], told him that I believed him, and apologized for the pain this matter has caused him," Dominguez told the radio station at the time. "I told him that I will support him and be an advocate for him in any way I can."
Harrison then sued the diocese for defamation, alleging Dominguez, as representative of the diocese, defamed him in her public remarks.
His lawsuit was filed less than a week after the Fresno County district attorney's office announced it would not pursue criminal prosecution of Harrison over abuse allegations because the statute of limitations had passed.
Harrison was under investigation by three separate police departments in 2019, after numerous allegations of homosexual assault of minors surfaced by multiple accusers.
One of the allegations involved a man in Firebaugh who accused Harrison of groping him on three occasions when he was a teen at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where Harrison was assigned. He said Harrison would ask him to drop his pants each night so the priest could inspect his genitals.
Multiple other male accusers in other counties have made similar allegations, leading to investigations in neighboring Merced County and Bakersfield.
The Firebaugh and Merced district attorneys eventually dropped their probes, citing the statute of limitations — while acknowledging the complaints were "credible" and making clear they would have pursued criminal charges otherwise.
The Bakersfield Police Department also closed its investigation, but it was criticized for conducting a sham investigation and ignoring 95% of witnesses. Harrison lives in Bakersfield and was longtime chaplain to the Bakersfield Police Department. The department itself has a notorious reputation for corruption.
Church Militant obtained a copy of the Bakersfield Police Department investigative file in 2019. It contains an email dated Apr. 17 from then-Brother Justin Gilligan, one of Harrison's accusers, setting forth the names and contact information of 28 individuals with information on Harrison's alleged misconduct. In a follow-up email, Gilligan provided two more names, including that of Stephen Brady, founder of Roman Catholic Faithful, whose own investigation in 2008 involved a former FBI agent who uncovered alleged abuse by Harrison of male teens.
Out of a total of 30 names given by Gilligan, the Bakersfield police interviewed only one. Brady, who has done more to expose abuse allegations against Harrison than anyone else, was never interviewed by Bakersfield police.
Harrison has also filed separate defamation lawsuits against Gilligan and Brady. Those lawsuits remain ongoing.
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