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FRESNO, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The president of the Catholic watchdog organization Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF) is standing up to a defamation lawsuit filed by an accused priest of the diocese of Fresno, California.
Stephen Brady, founder and president of RCF, has hired attorney Paul Jonna, who is from the same firm that successfully represented David Daleiden. Daleiden's group, Center for Medical Progress, was sued by Planned Parenthood for exposing the abortion giant's trafficking in body parts from aborted babies.
Brady told Church Militant he was connected with Jonna owing to the efforts of the Thomas More Society, a non-profit firm dedicated "to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty."
"At the suggestion of some RCF members, I contacted the Thomas More Society and asked them for assistance and direction," said Brady. "They hooked me up with Paul Jonna, and I am very grateful to both law firms. They're both great, positive law firms."
Brady and RCF are both named in a lawsuit filed Aug. 7 by Fresno priest Msgr. Craig Harrison. Harrison is seeking "unlimited" damages for Brady's "appearance at a press conference in Bakersfield" that addressed "allegations of sexual misconduct" made against Harrison.
On Thursday, Jonna released the following statement in defense of Brady:
This is a frivolous lawsuit designed to attack and chill protected First Amendment activity. My clients, Stephen Brady and Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc., pursued a legitimate news story involving credible allegations of sexual abuse by Msgr. Craig Harrison. There's overwhelming evidence that my clients' statements were true, which is a complete defense to the plaintiff's claim for defamation.
Brady was served with Harrison's lawsuit one week ago but remains optimistic that higher plans are at work.
"I have faith," remarked Brady. "While nobody likes to get sued, I'm sure God has a plan."
Brady had previously told Church Militant that dozens of witnesses have information pertaining to Harrison's case and need to be interviewed.
"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."
In addition to these witnesses, Brady said there is also his 2004 investigation of Harrison that involved teaming up with former FBI agent Tom Walsh.
"I believe this is nothing more than costly intimidation," observed Brady. "God willing, this will work out for the best."
"Since the filing of the lawsuit against me and Roman Catholic Faithful, more information is starting to come in which I've been finding very useful."
In Thursday's statement, Jonna also brought up California's anti-SLAPP statute, which stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. This statute can be invoked when a lawsuit is "brought primarily to discourage speech about issues of public significance."
"We're confident that the lawsuit will be dismissed under California's anti-SLAPP statute and that the plaintiff will ultimately be responsible for my clients' attorneys' fees and costs," stated Jonna.
Brady has often said that his group won't be silenced when speaking out against corruption in the Church. He also noted that he has limited resources to cover initial costs necessary to fight this court battle.
The RCF has revealed that it operates "solely on the generosity of faithful Catholics" and sums up the financial burden that will come with fighting Harrison's lawsuit: "This litigation has the potential to run into the tens of thousands of dollars — just to respond to what we maintain are unjust accusations of defamation — simply for requesting additional information from possible victims."
Many faithful Catholics say they support Brady owing to the work his organization has done for decades in exposing corruption within the Catholic Church. Brady told Church Militant he's been encouraged by the outpouring of support he's received over the years and in this past week.
"I have been overwhelmed with messages of prayers and encouragement regarding this situation with Fr. Harrison," says Brady. "It's rather moving to realize the number of friends and the amount of support you have out there for the work you've done in the past."