Fresno Priest Faces More Accusations of Abuse

News: US News
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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 22, 2019   

After Msgr. Craig Harrison was put on paid leave, still more allegations surface

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FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Even more victims are coming forward to accuse a priest in the Fresno diocese of sexual abuse.

The diocese of Fresno put Msgr. Craig Harrison on paid administrative leave on April 25 after receiving an allegation that Msgr. Harrison sexually assaulted an altar boy. The diocese announced it was also re-examining previous allegations against Harrison that had been dismissed years ago as unsubstantiated and not being credible.

After he was put on leave, still more men came forward with claims they were sexually abused by the priest. A total of four accusers were mentioned in a report this Monday.

Harrison was known in the local community for his work with troubled teenage boys.

Now, a Benedictine monk studying for the priesthood has gone public with his own claims against Msgr. Harrison. Brother Justin Gilligan, O.S.B., testified in a statement, "I was in Fr. Craig's inner circle from 2011 to 2016 and am a victim of his inappropriate touching, lies, manipulation and abuse of power."

He further claimed that back when he was a layperson and a recent convert, he witnessed Msgr. Harrison "being inappropriate with children, giving gifts, money, saying sexual jokes, touching and being alone with them."

The Benedictine appears to be the first alleged victim to publicly identify himself by name.


For comment on the growing number of abuse allegations against Msgr. Harrison, Church Militant reached out to Stephen Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF).

Brady said he knew of homosexual abuse claims against Msgr. Harrison that were made about 15 years ago, which were forwarded at the time to local law enforcement and the diocese.

Brady said of the growing number of people accusing Msgr. Harrison of sex abuse, "It doesn't surprise me, because it just fits the profile, fits the circumstances."

He told Church Militant on Tuesday that, back in 2004, he was working alongside retired investigator Thomas Walsh on allegations against another priest in California when they encountered claims about Harrison. They received word that Harrison would often have underage boys living with him whom he allegedly was molesting.

Church Militant was given the text of an August 2004 letter that Walsh sent to the Merced County district attorney detailing some of the accusations against Msgr. Harrison.

One part of Walsh's message tells of a young man who spat in Harrison's face and called him a "child molester." When his mother asked him why he called the priest a child molester, he explained that a friend "told him that every morning Harrison lined up all the boys who were residing in the house and examined each boy's testicles with a flashlight."

He said the priest told the boys that he was looking for signs of alcohol consumption and drug use.

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Screenshot of part of Thomas Walsh's 2004 letter to local law enforcement, the text of which was shared with Church Militant. To respect anonymity, Church Militant has

redacted individuals' names and other information.

Several of Msgr. Harrison's recent accusers made a similar claim about the priest touching their genitals.

One of the victims, who is choosing to remain anonymous, says that, in 1992–1993, he lived with Harrison in the rectory at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Firebaugh, California — where Harrison was pastor at the time. Harrison would examine his genitals every night, he claims, under the pretext of checking for signs of drug use. (The victim was 16–17 years old at the time.)

Walsh's letter to the district attorney about Harrison also brought up apparent financial irregularities. It stated that Harrison had fundraised thousands of dollars over the years that were totally unaccounted for, apparently in connection to his work with troubled teenagers.

When his mother asked him why he called the priest a child molester, the boy explained that a friend 'told him that every morning Harrison lined up all the boys who were residing in the house and examined each boy's testicles with a flashlight.'

In addition to contacting law enforcement, Brady said he and Walsh also sent word to the diocese of Fresno. But neither law enforcement nor the diocese, Brady said, took action against Harrison.

"Back then in 2004, I was considered a 'nut,'" Brady recalled.

He noted that, since the diocese did not act and neither did law enforcement, there was little else that he and Walsh could do. 

"As so many times has happened before, no one seemed to care back then," he complained.

Brady opined that the reason why U.S. dioceses are starting to address the sex abuse crisis now is because of "bad publicity" and "because they've been caught, they've been caught in the cover-up."

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Joseph George, an attorney for one of Msgr. Harrison's accusers, told local news that many of Msgr. Harrison's victims were Hispanic and came from low-income households. In discussion with Church Militant, Brady agreed with this observation.

Harrison's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, sparked backlash when he slammed the Fresno diocese's call for anyone with allegations to come forward. In an April 26 news article, Humphrey is quoted as saying that the policy was like "inviting the pigs to line up at the trough for whatever their needs are."

"When you blast that out, you invite a lot of damaged people or people with unsuccessful lives to feel important," Humphrey added. "They need attention."

Many criticized Humphrey's comparison of alleged sex abuse victims to "pigs." But the attorney doubled down, saying it was not his job to be sensitive toward the "feelings of people with an agenda."

It appears that Humphrey was specifically responding to criticism from the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). 

Fresno's new bishop, Bp. Joseph Brennan, criticized Humphrey's comment about alleged abuse survivors. The bishop said in a May 10 statement, "Our public commentary should be one of support; especially, for potential victims of abuse. It is most disturbing to me that public statements are made that sometime [sic] contain vile and filthy language in regards to child sex abuse victims." 

"That kind of language is ugly, mean spirited, dismissive and unacceptable," Bp. Brennan added.

 

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