The legal battle between a Bakersfield Catholic priest and the Fresno Roman Catholic Diocese has grown hotter.
Tuesday, Bakersfield Monsignor Craig Harrison issued a statement claiming that Fresno Bishop Joseph Brennan threatened to retaliate against him if he did not withdraw a lawsuit naming Brennan, the Diocese, and its chief spokeswoman as defendants.
Harrison has been embroiled in controversy since last April, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno announced it was placing him on administrative leave after allegations of sexual misconduct were reported to the Firebaugh Police Department.
The suit stems from comments made by Dominguez as spokeswoman for the Diocese in a May 2019 article by San Francisco-based public radio station KQED.
In it, Dominguez said she believed Harrison’s then-accusser’s claims of sexual misconduct by the priest.
“I personally expressed my concern for him; told him that I believed him, and apologized for the pain this matter has caused him. I told him that I will support him and be an advocate for him in any way I can,” Dominguez said, via emailed statement, in the KQED story.
Harrison faced allegations in Kern and Merced Counties dating back to his service in parishes dating back to the 1980s. Various law enforcement agencies either closed investigations or made referrals to District Attorneys that did not yield prosecutions.
“I am hereby calling upon you to cease this civil legal action against me and the Diocese of Fresno,” Brennan wrote in an October demand letter, according to a statement issued by Harrison’s attorneys. “I am further advising you that your failure to do so within the next two weeks will result in your being subject to the process of canon law to impose a penalty on you.”
A subsequent letter issued by Brennan said Harrison’s refusal to withdraw the suit, constituted a “failure to comply will result in the application of the process for imposing a penalty for your disobedience and for your violating the prescriptions of Can.1375.”
Canon 1375 states: “Those who hinder the freedom of the ministry or of an election or of the exercise of ecclesiastical power, or the lawful use of sacred or other ecclesiastical goods, or who intimidate either an elector or one who is elected or one who exercises ecclesiastical power or ministry, may be punished with a just penalty.”
Harrison, in a statement, said Brennan was attempting to force him into a “position of noncompliance” with his administrative leave.
“Bishop Brennan’s ever-changing goalposts for what the Bishop deems acceptable behavior have now reached such an extreme that it has become impossible for Monsignor Harrison to simultaneously comply with the Bishop’s demands AND comply with his duty to serve God,” the statement from Harrison’s attorneys read.
After listing a litany of alleged restrictions, Harrison’s counsel said they constituted “un-American demands.”
“In essence, Bishop Brennan has stated to Monsignor Harrison, not only are you prohibited from acting as a Catholic priest, but you also cannot act as a Christian man,” the statement read. “Monsignor Harrison cannot obey illegal, unjust or un-American demands in order to appease the Bishop.”
Reached for comment, a Roman Catholic Diocese spokeswoman declined to comment, citing it as an internal matter.