I hope it isn’t true. For his sake but mostly for ours.

I’m talking about Craig Harrison. If I hadn’t written his name, odds are most people in Bakersfield would have figured out to whom “his sake” referred. Since we heard the news Thursday, it’s all anybody has been talking about.

Talk about erasing everything else from the front page. If the news that Harrison has been accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy when he was a priest in Firebaugh 25 years ago had been the only news in Friday’s paper, it might have been the most read paper in The Californian’s history.

Everybody I know had the same reaction. Whether you are a Catholic, Jew, Muslim or religiously neutral. In addition to hoping that the allegations aren’t true, it was “I just really love the guy.”

“Love” is a strong word. “Love” is thrown around a bunch. “Love” in this case is neither exaggeration nor carelessness.

Before I dive in, this is also true. If the allegations prove true, then justice will have to be served. A crime is a crime.

It seems like everybody has a Father Craig story. The funeral they attended where he spoke with humor and tenderness, the fundraiser he emceed, the hospital bedsides in the middle of the night where he comforted the sick and administered the last rites to the dying.

Some of these people were parishioners, some were not. He doesn’t care if you are Catholic. He isn’t one of these “It’s my way or the highway” guys. His road is wide. Wide enough and long enough for almost everybody.

In his service to this community, he’s probably done more good, known more people and influenced more lives than any 10 other people.

I suspect if you assembled all of those stories into a book, that book wouldn’t be small. It wouldn’t be midlength. It would be “War and Peace.”

Craig’s our neighbor. I remember when he moved his parents in with him when they got sick toward the end of their lives. He saw them through. He did what a good son does.

If your kids moved out of town, he’d ask about them. By name. He knew where they lived, who they had married and what their children’s names were.

He probably has thousands like that. Rich, poor, and many in the middle.

Shortly after my dad died, Craig was in Rome. When he returned, I got a note in the mail that read, “The sacrifice of the mass is being offered for the happy repose of the soul of Herbert Rovell Benham by Laurence J. Spiteri at St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City at the request of ...”

The bottom of the page read: “The souls of the just rest in the Hands of God and no torment shall touch them.”

I keep it on my desk. Although I am not Catholic nor was my father, it comforts me. It makes me think that he might be in a good place, a place in addition to the place in my heart.

How many times do you think that has been repeated across the community? As close to infinity as any one person can muster.

I hope it isn’t true. For our sake, but for his, too.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.

(12) comments


He lied media yesterday.. "Victim Assistance Coordinator Cheryl Sarkisian of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno confirmed to 23ABC News on Friday that Bakersfield's St. Francis Church Monsignor Craig Harrison was "personally informed" about the accusations in a face-to-face meeting with Bishop Xavier Ochoa and diocese chancellor Teresa Dominguez on April 24 at 9:30 a.m.

On Thursday, just before 11 a.m., Monsignor Craig Harrison wrote in a Facebook post that he had "just learned" that he was on temporary administrative leave."


So . . .
Monsignor Harrison "was personally informed" about the ACCUSATIONS (on Wednesday) at 0930 24 April . . . (but not the admin leave)
and then . . .
On Thursday, just befor 11 a.m., (a FULL DAY LATER) . . . "just learned" . . . that he was on temporary administrative leave." (your words).
NO LIE . . . ! (still innocent in "the court of public opinion")
Seems that YOUR effort here epitomizes what Bishop Fulton J. Sheen once wrote: 'When somebody says: "I'm Catholic BUT . . . " It means: They're really NOT Catholic!'

barbara meuleman-girga

What happened to 'innocent until proven guilty" ? Anybody accused of anything has the word "alleged" in front of the accusation. Let's not speculate on this situation that happened 25 YEARS ago; it doesn't solve anything and just takes away from what we should all be doing...praying and let justice takes its course. Yes, our justice system is broken, but again, speculation only adds fuel to this fire.


Herb said he "hopes" it isn't true. That's not the same as saying he "knows" it isn't true.

Some people automatically defend the guy they know (or think they know) because "he doesn't seem the type" (to be a murderer, a pedophile, a thief, etc.).

Herb didn't defend Monsignor. He said he "hopes" it's not true, then explained why. If recent events (like Johnny Watson's case) have taught us anything (or should have), it's that #MeToo has value in encouraging victims to report crimes, but we should not automatically presume a guilty verdict. We should wait until there is an actual verdict to comment on his guilt or innocence. Until the accused is actually proven guilty, he is presumed to be innocent... remember that phrase??

I don't know Monsignor Craig and don't attend his church. I have heard a lot about him over the years, and it has always been good, so I'd also like to believe in his innocence. However, I don't know him and don't know what he is capable of. So, if he's guilty, let it be proven. If he's innocent, we'll find that out. I am not going to jump on the "let's get him" and light a pitchfork bandwagon until this is proven one way or the other.

Don't attack Herb because he has hope in the innocence of a man who has been nothing but good to him and people he knows. Hope is a thing with feathers.


Not only that, I don't think anyone is trying to get money, I haven't heard of anyone suing the church.. very telling... Maybe it's happening because they genuinely don't want this to happen to anyone else????????


1. The fact that he has 700 comments on his Facebook in support for him is scary. Especially people not even knowing if he did these crimes.... doesn't make sense people.

2. I don't think the diocese would pull a high profile priest like him from a wealthy parish like this unless they had something credible.

3. I am sure this is not the only accusation.

4. Prominent members of the community, stop coming out in support for him when you don't know the facts.

5. Why are we not worried about the victim, this is the exact reason why people don't speak up in the first place.

6. If this comes to be true (which I believe it) he will be the biggest fraud in Bakersfield history.

7. We are talking about an adult man when a child... underage people.. and all of you want to defend him????????

Gene Pool Chlorinator

So, what you are saying is people that disagree with you are ALL wrong? You (in point 6) have already made up your mind without a SINGLE piece of evidence being presented other than an (to this point) unsubstantiated allegation.
I don't think people are not worried about the alleged victim, it's just that most sane people allow due process for anyone accused of a crime, where you apparently don't.
I wonder if you'd be so quick to judge if someone in your family were accused of such a heinous act?

Concerned Citizen of Bakersfield

What a load of nonsense....any man who accepts a job where celibacy is required and then adopts 9 “troubled young males” is highly suspicious...guilty...


A full column devoted to an accused perpetrator and not a single word about the victim or any VICTIM of predatory Catholic priests. We know where Herb Benham stands.


We know nothing about the alleged victim. How could Herb devote more than the sentence he did include that you somehow missed? Also, he claims in the article to live nearby the accused, so there is familiarity there. For Mr. Benham's style of journalism (this is an opinion column), the article seems quite fine.


Why Catholic priests are STILL molesting children in the year 2019: Because we still insist that "but he's such a nice guy, he couldn't..." Because we're still trained to worship people in positions of authority. Because we still don't believe VICTIMS. Apparently, the #METOO movement has passed Kern County by.


Monsignor is one of the few priests that I know of who ls listens to the problems of others and when possible offers solutions. He helped several friends to obtain annulments. I hope and think that he is innocent. I hope so. And if so, I hope the accusers are brought task.

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