Welcome to Bakersfield Observed. Our mission is to celebrate life in Kern County by focusing on newsmakers and events and the local characters who make this community such a special place. The views expressed here are strictly my own and do not represent any other company or publication.
The Diocese of Fresno has released a list of 37 priests who are facing "credible" charges of sexual abuse that church investigators say appear to be true.
And among those priests is Craig Harrison, the former Bakersfield monsignor and head of St. Francis Parish who has been accused by multiple men of sexual abuse over a 30 year period while serving as a priest in Firebaugh, Merced and Bakersfield.
The Fresno Diocese has been one of the last in California to release the list of "credibly accused" priests, and it comes at a time when Harrison has been trying to rebuild his life and reputation while his attorneys fend off new lawsuits alleging he abused young men.
Harrison and his lawyers have steadfastly rejected the accusations since he was was first suspended from the church back in April 2019, but his accusers and detractors are expected to point to the list as further evidence that Harrison sexually preyed on young men while serving as a priest.
"You know that our family is far from perfect and like many families, it can be dysfunctional at times," Bishop Joseph V. Brennan said in a statement. "Some members of the family - priests, deacons, and religious in positions of trust and leadership - have behaved badly. That is putting it mildly. Let's face it, acts of abuse upon the innocent and vulnerable are truly evil, plain and simply. The pain, suffering, betrayal, and loss of innocence felt by many victims last a lifetime."
The Diocese said the list was compiled by Kinsale Consulting and the Diocesan Review Board under the leadership of former executive assistant director of the FBI, Kathleen McChesney.
The Diocese said "credibly accused" means any allegation against Harrison and the others "appears to be credible, more likely than not to have occurred."
While the statute of limitations protects Harrison and the others from criminal liability, they remain open to civil lawsuits from accusers. Two civil suits were recently filed against Harrison from men who said Harrison sexually exploited them while they were young men attending church. One lawsuit claims that Harrison assaulted a 13-year-old at St. Francis in 1990. The other claims that Harrison sexually assaulted a teenaged boy over a three-year period in Firebaugh, beginning in 1993.
It is also the first time the Diocese has publicly acknowledged that the allegations against Harrison appear to be true and credible.
The Harrison case has consumed his hometown of Bakersfield since the beginning, and initially few believed that their popular priest could be capable of such lewd behavior. As time wore on, Harrison's attorneys unleashed a series of threats and lawsuits against his accusers and detractors, including one claiming that a former understudy in Bakersfield named Ryan Dixon had slandered him by saying he believed the accusations to be true.
Dixon claimed to have knowledge of Harrison being sexually inappropriate with young men and using his influence to groom young men for abuse by giving them money and doing personal favors for them. While at St. Francis, Harrison and Dixon were inseparable until, according to Dixon, it became clear Harrison was preying on young men.
The lawsuit against Dixon, known as Brother Gilligan when he was studying to become a monk, is pending but Dixon called today's development a "vindication" for the accusers.
"This is the first time in two years that the Diocese of Fresno has publicly acknowledged Harrison being credibly accused," Dixon said. "All we've heard until this point is a one sided story. This is vindication for a lot of young men."
Dixon has not filed any civil action against Harrison but did cooperate with Diocese investigators during the investigation.
The Diocese said the investigators reviewed more than 2,800 religious and clergy files dating back to the early 1900s.
"The names identified to have allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in this file review were then provided to the Diocesan Review Board who during a year and a half period reviewed to the extent possible all reasonable, available, relevant information and reached the opinion that the allegation appeared to be credible, i.e., more likely than not to be true," the Diocese said in a statement.
* photo credit: Top photo courtesy of The Bakersfield Californian. Below, Dixon and Harrison during happier times.
Kyle Humphrey, one of Harrison's defense attorneys, released this statement following the church's release of its credibly accused list.
"While the Bishop’s profound lack of integrity is a tragedy for the faithful, we are not surprised to see him follow through on his outrageous threats of vindictive retaliation against Craig. As we previously warned everyone, the Bishop made it clear to us that despite there being no new evidence, if Craig did not shut down his business and disappear from public life, the Bishop would baselessly add him to the list of credibly accused priests. To be clear, we previously confirmed with the Church that at the conclusion of its investigation, Craig was NOT on this list and there was no intention by the Church to add him to this list. Since then, there has been no new information and no support whatsoever for the claim that the accusations are credible. To this date, the Bishop has refused to interview Craig or review any of the overwhelming evidence proving his innocence. Craig remains innocent, all information available to us supports his innocence, all information available to the Church supports his innocence, and the Bishop remains the same immoral actor he has been since the beginning of his tenure. This is nothing new."