New Diocese of Fresno bishop faces scrutiny after attorney’s comments on alleged abuse victims

The Diocese of Fresno’s new bishop is already facing scrutiny after a defense attorney for Monsignor Craig Francis Harrison made comments toward alleged victims of sex abuse that many have deemed rude and insensitive.

Meanwhile, a nationwide group representing sex abuse victims on Tuesday released a list of 23 priests it says have been accused of sexual misconduct, and have served in the Diocese of Fresno. The Bee has corroborated only some of those names, and is not printing the list.

Rev. Joseph V. Brennan officially took over the leadership reins of the Diocese of Fresno on May 2. Just a week before, Harrison was placed on administrative leave after allegations of sexual misconduct arose in Firebaugh, and then Merced.

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) on Monday sent a letter to Brennan asking him to make a public apology for comments allegedly said by Kyle Humphrey, who is representing Harrison in the sex abuse cases. The group held a press conference on Tuesday in Fresno to demand an apology from Brennan over the controversial comments.

Although Brennan did not make the comments, SNAP members say they want him to renounce the statements because they happened under his leadership watch. Brennan has not issued a response to Humphrey’s statement.

After the allegations against Harrison emerged, Humphrey on April 26 told the Bakersfield Californian the diocese’s request asking anyone with information about alleged abuse to come forward was like “inviting the pigs to line up the trough for whatever their needs are.”

That struck a nerve with people like Joey Piscitelli, the North California director for SNAP. Piscitelli, who said he’s an abuse victim, sent a letter to Brennan asking for an apology. He says Humphrey’s comments discourage other alleged victims from coming forward.

“We want to call out the bishop, and we are demanding he apologize to all clergy abuse victims and rape victims of priests in the Diocese of Fresno,” he said on Tuesday.

Humphrey admitted to having made those comments. The Bakersfield attorney said his job was not to be sensitive to the “feelings of people with an agenda.”

He said SNAP “are not true victims of abuse,” added that people shouldn’t rush to judgment in his client’s case.

“We need to vet accusations seriously,” he said. Humphrey believes some accusers might want to make money. “I think it’s a motive that has to be examined,” he said. “It’s been the traditional motive.”

Humphrey said he “can guarantee” the allegations against Harrison are “are not true.”

SNAP had also asked Brennan to cancel a vigil held for Harrison at St. Francis in Bakersfield last week. The diocese did send an internal email to staff last week, asking people to be mindful of the way they choose to support someone.

In the email, the diocese also told staff that “casting blame on anyone who is coming forward and/or passing judgment on their motives is very harmful.”

But the vigil still carried on as documented by the Californian.

Esther Hatfield-Miller, with SNAP in Southern California, took part in Tuesday’s press conference. She said the organization is “imploring” Brennan to make the list of the 23 accused priests available to the public on diocese’s website, and to distribute it to all its parishes.

Money is not the reason why people come forward, she said. “It’s not to come out for a payout, it’s because of the amount of trauma that we have endured and sustained from these credibly accused clergies,” she said.

The Diocese of Fresno released a statement to media Tuesday, saying its investigation by former FBI executive assistant director Kathleeen MCChesney began April 30. She’s looking into files going back to 1922, in order to release a list of Fresno Diocese priests accused of sexual misconduct.

The statement says the Diocese of Fresno is among six dioceses in the state asked by the California Attorney General’s Office to voluntarily turnover documents about compliance with mandatory reporting of child abuse incidents to law enforcement, in order for the office to monitor compliance for the diocese.

The diocese plans to comply with the request, according to the statement. All 12 dioceses in the state have also been asked to preserve such documents.

The Diocese of Fresno was recently asked to join a meeting about sexual abuse with the district attorneys offices in the eight counties it covers: Fresno, Tulare, Kings, Kern, Inyo, Madera, Merced and Mariposa.

“We welcome and look forward to this opportunity to engage in what we believe may be (a) mutually beneficial dialogue,” the statement reads.

Harrison is the fifth Fresno Diocese priest on administrative leave, pending outcomes of ongoing investigations into allegations of misconduct.

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