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Police: Fresno Diocese priest now under investigation in Merced after new allegations

Fresno Catholic diocese ‘pondering’ whether to name local priests accused of sex crimes

Bishop Armando X. Ochoa is working with a review board to determine what info the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno may release about area priests accused of sexual misconduct, including the possibility of publicly identifying those priests by name.
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Bishop Armando X. Ochoa is working with a review board to determine what info the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno may release about area priests accused of sexual misconduct, including the possibility of publicly identifying those priests by name.

A second alleged victim of a Diocese of Fresno priest has come forward, Merced police say.

Last week, the diocese announced it had placed Monsignor Craig Francis Harrison, 59, on administrative leave after allegations of sexual misconduct involving an adult male in Firebaugh.

Harrison is under investigation by the Firebaugh Police Department.

Sgt. Rey Alvarez, a detective with the Merced Police Department, confirmed allegations were made to Merced police and a report was taken.

“We did have somebody come in on Friday,” he said. “It’s still very early in the investigation.” He said no further details will be released at this time.

Harrison served at Our Lady of Mercy, Sacred Heart and St. Patrick’s in Merced. He also served at St. Francis in Mojave, St. Joseph in Firebaugh, and most recently, at St. Francis Parish in Bakersfield. He began working as a priest in 1987 at the Merced parishes.

Teresa Dominguez, chancellor with the Diocese of Fresno, said the second alleged victim went to the diocese before going to police.

“We are cooperating with both Firebaugh and Merced Police Department,” she said in an email. “I cannot speculate on whether or not anyone else will come forward.”

In the Firebaugh case, police have said the alleged victim was a minor at the time of the alleged incident. The alleged victim was allegedly touched inappropriately on three separate occasions when he was an altar boy at St. Joseph Church in Firebaugh.

In an internal email sent to diocese’s personnel on Monday morning, and obtained by The Bee, Dominguez says it’s understandable that in the wake of Harrison’s case, “reactions are very emotionally charged.”

“It is only natural that those who hold him in very high regard want to support him, and that is very important,” she wrote in the email. “However, the way we (choose) to support someone must be carefully discerned.”

Victims, survivors and others have expressed concerns to the diocese about the “reactions they are witnessing,” she said.

“Casting blame on anyone who is coming forward and/or passing judgment on their motives is very harmful,” the email says. “Should there be others who want to come forward we must not do anything to discourage them.”

Four other priests in the Diocese of Fresno are currently on leave, pending ongoing investigations.

A Los Banos priest was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018 after pleading no contest to possession child pornography. The priest, Robert Gamel, had previously been sentenced for possessing child pornography.

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