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Fresno Diocese priest says he’s innocent of ‘slanderous’ sexual abuse allegations

Child sexual abuse statistics in the United States

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
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One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

A priest with the Diocese of Fresno who’s facing sexual abuse allegations released a public statement for the first time this week.

Monsignor Craig Harrison has been on leave from his Bakersfield parish since early April, following allegations of sexual abuse in Firebaugh and Merced.

In a statement from his representative, published by the Bakersfield Californian on Thursday, Harrison said he has remained silent out of respect for the investigation, but will be “returning to Bakersfield shortly to assist my attorney in proving my innocence.”

Harrison also refuted the most recent allegations, made by a Catholic monk who says he witnessed Harrison acting inappropriate with children, giving them gifts and money, making sexual jokes and touching them.

He called those allegations “heartbreaking” because they involve “false, defamatory, and slanderous” charges.

The priest has had no contact with the Fresno Diocese since April 24 when he was first told of the allegations and placed on leave, according to the statement. Since then, no one from the diocese has “checked on my state of mind or welfare,” he said.

Nor, have they invited him to respond or provide evidence against the accusations. “Over the past four weeks I have been waiting to hear anything about the allegations against me from the Diocese and for the opportunity to share my side,“ he said. “Each day has been agonizing.”

Responding to the statement, the national organization SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) compared Harrison to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein and condemned him for his mean-spirited rhetoric and for using “his lawyer mouthpiece to spread fear and intimidation in the Diocese.”

Harrison’s case is not the only alleged sexual abuse investigation happening in the Diocese of Fresno. Father Raul Diaz, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Dinuba, was placed on leave May 17 after law enforcement received a report alleging he engaged in inappropriate behavior that might have included contact with minors.

He was the sixth priest in the Diocese of Fresno to be placed on leave, pending ongoing investigations.

There are an estimated 1.2 million Catholics in the eight counties covered by the Diocese of Fresno, which include , Merced, Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, Tulare, Kings, Kern and Inyo.

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