A Catholic monk is no longer keeping silent about what he claims were sexual improprieties with minors by Monsignor Craig Harrison of St. Francis of Assisi Church.
Brother Justin Gilligan, with the Order of St. Benedict, claims Harrison made sexual advances toward him on multiple occasions before he became a monk, but it was Harrison's behavior around minors that most troubled hm.
This is the first time a fellow Catholic cleric has stepped forward with allegations against Harrison.
Gilligan is Bakersfield native Ryan Dixon; Brother Justin Gilligan is the name he took when he became a monk, a practice common among those entering a monastery.
Gilligan, as Dixon, attended Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College and, before enrolling in seminary, was active in local politics. He served as executive vice chairman of the Kern County Young Republicans and worked with Republican political consultants such as the late Mark Abernathy and his wife, Cathy Abernathy.
Gilligan, now living in the Pacific Northwest, was about 23 at the time Harrison made his purported advances, but he alleges he also saw Harrison behaving inappropriately with minors.
"I also witnessed him being inappropriate with children, giving gifts/money, saying sexual jokes, touching and being alone with them," said Gilligan, 30, reading from a statement. Under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted in 2002 by the U.S. Catholic Church, priests are forbidden from being alone with minors.
Gilligan converted to Catholicism in 2011 and his home parish was St. Francis, where he became a "zealous young Catholic" who attended Mass every day, he said in a recent interview in Bakersfield.
"I started hanging around church more, and Father Craig became my mentor — a priest I trusted and admired," said Gilligan. A year later, in 2012, with Harrison's blessing and encouragement, Gilligan joined the seminary to become a priest, he said. After graduating with a bachelors degree in philosophy in 2016, Gilligan said, he left the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno on good terms to become a Catholic monk at an out of state monastery.
It was during his time at St. Francis, from 2011 to 2016, Gilligan said, that he became part of Harrison's inner circle. During this time, he said, he began to witness what he called "inappropriate touching, lies, manipulation and abuse of power" by Harrison.
Citing legal concerns, Gilligan would not go into specific details about the kind of inappropriate sexual conduct he allegedly witnessed Harrison doing with minors.
Gilligan alleges that he rejected Harrison's advances toward him, but the incidents created tension and led him to distance himself from the church.
"Sadly, I had to say goodbye to Bakersfield, a community I love, along with friends, family and others I cared about most in this world," said Gilligan. "I had to push them away because of what experienced with Father Craig."
Gilligan apparently played a key role in convincing a potential victim of sexual misconduct from Firebaugh to report his case to the Diocese of Fresno.
"At the beginning of April, the Diocese of Fresno contacted my superiors at the monastery, explaining that a third party (had) contacted the diocese," he said.
That third party was "encouraging (the diocese) to reach out to me, believing I had very important information regarding Father Craig involving the safety of minors," Gilligan said.
Two representatives of the Diocese of Fresno subsequently went to interview Gilligan and another seminarian to gather information about what they might know about alleged misconduct by Harrison. Teresa Dominguez, director of communications for the Fresno diocese, confirmed she met with and spoke to Gilligan.
Gilligan said he reached out to the potential victim from Firebaugh, listened to his story and believed him. On April 12, the Firebaugh man made a report to the Fresno diocese alleging sexual misconduct by Harrison when the man was a minor. A report was also filed with the Firebaugh Police Department and the investigation is still underway. Two weeks later, on April 25, the diocese announced that Harrison had been suspended from all of his priestly duties and placed on administrative leave.
"I realized the things that had happened to me happened to others, too," Gilligan said. The monk said he observed other events he deemed improper involving Harrison.
"I have also witnessed him taking advantage of and controlling the lives of those entrusted to him that had drug or alcohol problems," he said.
He says it's simply not true that those coming forward today with accusations against Harrison are motivated by money. "The narrative (that) ... those coming forward (are doing so) for financial gain or (are) trying to destroy a good man's name is 100 percent false," said Gilligan. "The first victim to come forward to the Diocese ... on April 12 was living his life normally; he was not aware, when I made a personal visit, that a third party had contacted the Diocese."
Gilligan had not spoken out publicly about the allegations against Harrison, he said, because he was afraid no one would believe him. Doing so could have ruined his chances of becoming a priest or damaged his reputation in Bakersfield.
"I have seen how (Harrison) builds relationships with high ranking people in the community, such as the news media, law enforcement, attorneys, judges, business owners, politicians and other wealthy individuals," Gilligan said. He adds he is not seeking any financial gain from Harrison or the diocese.
"I don't need money because I am a monk, and I have no animosity toward Father Craig. I have forgiven him for what he has done to me," he said.
Gilligan has not filed any police reports but he said he was interviewed by officers from the Bakersfield and Firebaugh police departments about what he witnessed, and he feels his story was taken seriously. But he admits he is afraid and nervous and at times disillusioned, questioning why he became a Catholic in the first place. But, he says, he feels he has a responsibility to the church and to the families of Bakersfield to speak out now.
"All I want is for those victims to not feel alone, (to) get them the help they need, and help for Father Craig," he said.
Kyle Humphrey, attorney for Monsignor Harrison, issued the following response to the allegations: "I'm not shocked. There is an effort to frame and destroy Father Craig as a means to get to the deep pockets of the church. This is very much like 'Game of Thrones,' with players with individual motives to build their own little kingdoms."
Harrison remains suspended from his official duties as men in Firebaugh, Merced and Bakersfield have come forward with allegations they, too, were sexually abused by the monsignor.