Bakersfield

Fresno Catholic Diocese strikes back at ex-priest in letter to Bakersfield parish

Fresno Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph V. Brennan is not quite finished with Craig Harrison, the now-former Monsignor of Bakersfield’s St. Francis of Assisi Church.

A letter distributed to parishioners of St. Francis from Brennan took aim at Harrison’s post-pastoral work as a counselor and attempted to clear the air on the circumstances leading to Harrison’s exit from the Diocese.

The letter notes that the Fresno Diocese received seven sets of allegations of misconduct by Harrison involving minors and that it waited until the conclusion of law enforcement investigations spanning Merced, Fresno, and Kern counties before commencing its own internal investigation.

Police and prosecutors in all three counties declined to charge Harrison on the combination of insufficient evidence or the lapsing of the statute of limitations for the particular alleged offense.

“The Diocesan Review Board reviewed all available information regarding each allegation and and arrived t the opinion that the allegations were credible,” the letter reads.

Fresno’s Diocese requested a “canonical case with the Holy See seeking penal action” against Harrison, which was granted by Vatican officials.

“The Tribunal was scheduled to convene within the same week that the Diocese was notified that Mr. Harrison had voluntarily [emphasis Brennan’s] petitioned Rome to be dispensed from the clerical state,” the Bishop wrote.

Harrison, who has taken up counseling as his present vocation in the wake of his exit from the Catholic clergy, is facing heat from Brennan for allegedly violating key elements of Canon Law following his exit.

For starters, Brennan has taken issue with widespread references to Harrison as “Father Craig” or “Monsignor Harrison,” titles that belong to Catholic clergy.

But Harrison’s current line of work, and how he frames it, appear to be more acute issues.

Noting that he doesn’t “begrudge anyone’s effort to make a living,” Brennan openly muses that he “would like to know what advanced degrees or certificates he has worked for and received so as to qualify for offering such services” before adding that it “is really none of my business.”

“He has publicly indicated that he is offering spiritual counseling and spiritual direction,” Brennan wrote, emphasis his. “Well, ‘spiritual direction is a specific ministry in the Church reserved to priests in active ministry and lay people who have been both properly prepared and approved by their local bishop to offer such ministry.”

Kyle J. Humphrey, an attorney who has represented Harrison throughout the two-year misconduct row, told KGET that he was hardly surprised by the contents of Brennan’s letter.

“This is the obsessive, angry, un-Christian approach the bishop has taken from day one,” Humphrey said. “[Craig] Harrison will continue to be a Christian man and continue to reach out with the message of love that Jesus taught us and won’t be silenced by a person that clearly took this personally and has been very vindictive throughout this process.”

Humphrey added: “If the goal of this letter was to drive more people from the Catholic faith and more people from the Fresno diocese, mission accomplished.”

Read the letter

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.