BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — His voice shaking with emotion Thursday, Craig Harrison read a statement saying he has resigned from the priesthood – but will continue to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and preach.
Harrison said the greatest lesson he learned during the past two years came from his community in Bakersfield, which he thanked for its unwavering support. His faith has never been stronger, Harrison said, but his spiritual journey won’t continue with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno.
“I was never given any opportunity to respond to any accusation against me or to give any evidence in support of my innocence,” Harrison said. “To this day, right now, no one in the Diocese of Fresno has ever even asked me a question about the allegations, and it’s almost two years,” he said.
In April, after it became clear the diocese had no interest in helping him, Harrison said he was forced to sue the diocese for defamation. Later, he received a letter from Fresno Bishop Joseph Brennan warning him to drop the lawsuit or face repercussions, Harrison said.
The bishop ordered him to stop performing funeral services for his friends, pray with other people, post prayers on Facebook, or be seen or photographed in public wearing dark clothing, Harrison said. He was prohibited from celebrating the Eucharist unless he was alone, he said.
“I have done everything,” Harrison said, pausing while his voice wavered and he regained his composure. “I have done everything I can to comply with the bishop’s rules that he changes every day. But now the rules have gone too far.”
He said, “Above all else, more than being a priest or anything else, I am a Christian. And I have a responsibility as a Christian to help people in their time of need.”
Because he can’t refuse to help his community, Harrison said he has submitted a letter to Pope Francis resigning as a Catholic priest. He said he has come to accept he cannot ignore the call he feels to help and serve others.
“So while one chapter of my life is closing, a new chapter full of possibilities for all of us is beginning,” Harrison said. “I feel a call to ministry stronger than ever before, and I will continue to follow Jesus Christ, I will continue to preach, I will continue to lead a life, and as St. Francis said, ‘I will go out and preach the Gospel, and if need to use words.'”
Harrison, pastor of Bakersfield’s St. Francis of Assisi Church, was the subject of multiple investigations after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him in April 2019. Authorities in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced declined to file criminal charges.
The priest has maintained his innocence. He has been removed from his duties as pastor since the first accuser came forward.
Following the investigations, Harrison filed multiple defamation lawsuits. He brought one against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno after a representative of the bishop went on a San Francisco radio station and discussed the allegations against him.
Harrison filed a second suit against a former Catholic monk who went public with allegations, and a third against the organization Roman Catholic Faithful and its founder Stephen Brady for publishing what he called “false, malicious and reckless accusations.”
The lawsuits are pending.