Firebaugh in shock after beloved ex-pastor accused of sexual misconduct with minor

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (KFSN) -- Monsignor Craig Harrison of St. Francis Church in Bakersfield has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor.

According to the Diocese of Fresno, which oversees Bakersfield Catholic churches, an allegation of sexual misconduct was reported to diocesan personnel on Friday, April 12, by a man who was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse.

On Monday, April 15, diocesan personnel reported the allegation in person to the Firebaugh Police Department. Later that day, the officer who initially received the report was able to contact and interview the alleged victim.

According to police, the victim was 16 to 17 years old and an altar boy when the misconduct occurred. The victim told police he was alone with the pastor when he was inappropriately touched three times. At the time of the alleged misconduct, Monsignor Harrison was a priest.

The Diocese of Fresno says it is conducting an internal investigation concurrent with the investigation being pursued by law enforcement.

Monsignor Harrison has served at Our Lady of Mercy, St. Patrick's and Sacred Heart of Merced, St. Francis of Bakersfield, St. Francis of Mojave, and St. Joseph of Firebaugh.

The Diocese of Fresno has placed Msgr. Harrison on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Diocese of Fresno is asking anyone who has information that may be relevant to this case to contact Officer Ricardo Monay of the Firebaugh Police Department at (559) 659-3051.

To speak with diocesan personnel regarding relevant concerns in any location in the Diocese please contact Teresa Dominguez or Cheryl Sarkisian at (559) 488-7400 or your local law enforcement agency.

Action News has learned another accuser came forward alleging misconduct when the priest worked in Merced.

Residents expressed shock and dismay

Some said Harrison had made a great impact in the community.

A residential street in Firebaugh was named in his honor. Johnny Garcia, a resident, said Harrison's good deeds and tireless work was the very reason he bought a house on the street that bears the Catholic leader's name.

"Everything that he could do for the kids, it was, he would do it. The community, parents, whoever needed help, financially, spiritually, anything, he was always there for everybody," Garcia said.

Garcia said Harrison got the Firebaugh Boys and Girls Club going and opened up a weight room to give kids a place to exercise. He even staffed it till 10 at night to accommodate the youth who worked in the fields.

The well-known and respected priest was both a spiritual guide and a personal friend to the Garcia family, so Thursday's news was especially difficult to hear.

"He was there for me sometimes when I needed help back in the day before I got married. And he ended up marrying us, which was a beautiful wedding. Just to hear everything that's going on now... I can't believe it."

Firebaugh Police Chief Sal Raygoza says officers got a call from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno on April 15 to report information they received about the alleged misconduct.

Detectives then contacted the victim who reported the incidents. During the interview, the now 40-year-old accuser told detectives about inappropriate touching.

Action News has learned the victim no longer lives in Firebaugh.

At this point, the police report has not been submitted to the Fresno County District Attorney's Office, in part because the investigation is more involved and in-depth.

"The diocese provided names of possible victims and witnesses and we have been contacting the possible victims and witnesses and we're following up on every lead," Raygoza said.

KERO contributed to this article.
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