BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Two defamation lawsuits filed by former priest Craig Harrison have been ordered dismissed by an appeals court that found statements made by an ex-monk and the president of a Roman Catholic activist group were protected speech.
In opinions released Friday, the 5th District Court of Appeal said it has reversed a Kern court’s ruling rejecting the defendants’ anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motions and is sending the cases back to Bakersfield with instructions they be dismissed.
A date for that hearing had not been scheduled as of Friday evening.
Harrison, former pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church, denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct which arose in 2019 but resigned from the priesthood after he said the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno — which he also sued — would no longer let him perform the functions of a priest. That lawsuit was officially dismissed Monday.
In the other suits, Harrison argued former Catholic monk Ryan Gilligan and Roman Catholic Faithful founder Stephen Brady made “false, defamatory, libelous and slanderous” statements about him.
Gilligan is one of several men who spoke with the Diocese of Fresno and Bakersfield police about behavior he said he witnessed and felt was inappropriate, according to police reports. He later spoke with 17 News.
Brady held a press conference in May 2019 during which Harrison attorneys alleged “lurid and salacious” statements were made about the ex-priest.
The appellate court, however, ruled statements made by Brady and Gilligan were protected free speech. Some comments simply repeated language contained in emails or letters sent to law enforcement.
Regarding Brady, the court said, “The relevant question for this court is whether Brady’s statements were a fair and true recitation of what was said in the underlying proceedings. Upon review of the record and taking a totality of the circumstances approach, we conclude Brady’s statements satisfy this requirement.”
The court said the situation was more complex on whether Gilligan’s statements were a “fair and true recitation” of underlying proceedings, but ultimately it reached the same conclusion.