Accused Priest’s Parish Vandalized: ‘Rape’ Spray-Painted on Doors, Walls

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  July 31, 2019   

Msgr. Craig Harrison accused by multiple males of abuse

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Days after a local California police department closed its investigation into an accused priest, his parish was vandalized with the word "rape" spray-painted around the building.

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(Photo credit: KGET News)

Saint Francis Church in Bakersfield, whose pastor is Msgr. Craig Harrison, was found with the graffiti early Wednesday morning. The word "rape" was spray-painted in multiple places, including the parish building's doors, walls, pillars and above the guardrail, as well as a trash can that was set on fire.

Accusers expressed anger to Church Militant after the Bakersfield Police Department announced July 25 it was closing down its investigation into Msgr. Craig Harrison, accused by at least six men (although the actual number appears to be much higher) of sex abuse. When Harrison's attorney, Kyle Humphrey, was asked at the July 25 press conference the total number of alleged victims who have accused Harrison, Humphrey said, "I prefer not to comment."

The police department could not reach a determination of guilt or innocence because it claimed it lacked sufficient evidence to recommend the case for prosecution. The 157-page police report also notes it interviewed several alleged victims, who denied having been touched inappropriately by Harrison. It's unclear whether the men interviewed are the same ones who alleged Harrison molested them as teens, either at his home for troubled boys or elsewhere.

This is the second such investigation the Bakersfield Police Department has closed regarding Harrison.

An alleged victim told Church Militant Bakersfield police are compromised because of their longstanding, close relationship to Harrison as their chaplain. In response to Church Militant's query, Sgt. Nathan McCauley, spokesman for the police department, rejected the characterization.

"I don't believe that's the case," he said. "Feel free to look through the investigation," which he believes speaks for itself.

According to McCauley, Harrison's duties as chaplain will not resume unless the diocese of Fresno — which is continuing its investigation into the priest — clears him of all allegations and restores him to ministry.

Two other police departments — Firebaugh and Merced — continue their investigations into other allegations of abuse lodged against Harrison, as is the diocese of Fresno, which placed the priest on leave when the allegations surfaced three months ago.

Harrison gave a tearful press conference last Thursday, saying these past few months "have been some of the most difficult and challenging experiences of my life," insisting he's the target of "false allegations."

But accusers say he's lying.

Accusers say he's lying.
Brother Justin Gilligan, who was once part of Harrison's inner circle, said in a statement in May: 
I witnessed him being inappropriate with children, giving gifts/money, saying sexual jokes, touching, and being alone with them. … I have also witnessed him taking advantage and controlling the lives of younger men entrusted to him that have had drug or alcohol problems.
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(Photo credit: KGET News)

Gilligan said the reason he feared going public was because he was afraid Harrison, a popular, high-ranking priest, would respond by "ruin[ing] my reputation in Bakersfield." His fears were realized, as Harrison hit back by publishing a letter accusing Gilligan of having problems with anger and drinking.

In response, Gilligan told Church Militant at the time he stood by his original statement, and predicted Harrison would attempt to smear his character and good name.

Another alleged victim claims Harrison groped him on three occasions while he was an altar boy at St. Joseph Church in Firebaugh.

And a different accuser says Harrison abused him in 1988 when the priest was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Merced.

In addition to these claims, Harrison was the subject of an abuse allegation 20 years ago, which was investigated by the late Bp. John Steinbock — who had a reputation for covering up homosexual predation — and dismissed as not credible.

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(Photo credit: KGET News)

Newly installed Bp. Joseph Brennan wants the case re-opened and re-examined in light of the more recent allegations.

The 1998 allegation involved a male teen — a Latino from a poor family — who lived in the rectory of St. Joseph's Church in Firebaugh in the early 1990s, who claims Harrison would inspect his genitals each night under the pretext that the examination would reveal whether the boy had done drugs.

His allegation is identical to that of another boy who lived in one of Harrisons' homes for troubled teens.

A 2004 official report issued by former FBI agent Tom Walsh quotes a former resident of Harrison's boys' home, who said, that "every morning Harrison lined up all the boys who were residing in the house and examined each boy's testicles with a flashlight. Telling them that by doing this he could tell if any one of them was using narcotics."

The claim is identical to that of two recent accusers. 

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(Photo credit: 23ABC News Bakersfield)

Another alleged victim claims Harrison pinned him against the wall and rubbed his erect penis against him.

The Bakersfield investigative report claims an allegation from the 1990s involving criminal allegations could not be substantiated for lack of evidence. The report also states it interviewed several alleged victims, who denied any inappropriate activity from Harrison.

KGET News in Bakersfield aired an interview with another accuser, "John," an Iraq war veteran, who claims Harrison befriended him as an adolescent and invited him to wrestle with Harrison on the floor of his rectory, which started out as playful but then took on "more of a sexual nature."
 
The man also claims that at age 16, after serving morning Mass, he would return to the sacristy, where Harrison would grab him from around the waist and force "groin-to-groin grinding" on him. Although he did not welcome the encounters, he feared speaking out, as he was small for a teen in comparison to Harrison, who was a large and imposing figure. 
 
The experiences led John to struggle with his identity and question his sexuality, as well as cause problems for his marriage.
 
In light of the Bakersfield Police Department clearing his name, John fears things will return to business as usual.
 
"It's still a fear of mine that nothing's going to happen, he's going to get a slap on the wrist, he's going to resume his position at the church — and that can't happen," John said.
 
Fresno has suffered a rash of bad press in the face of several priests recently removed over allegations of abuse, including Fr. Michael Lastiri, an open homosexual with a decades-long track record of active homosexuality, including posting photos and invitations for sex on an online gay hook-up site, as well as embezzling at least $60,000 from one of his parishes. 
 
 
 
Following is Br. Gilligan's full May 21 statement on Msgr. Harrison:

My name is Br. Justin Gilligan, O.S.B., people in Bakersfield would know me as Ryan Dixon. I am 30 years old and went to Bakersfield High School, and attended Bakersfield College. I come to this community with a heavy heart with the circumstances regarding Fr. Craig Harrison.

I became Catholic in 2011 here in Bakersfield at my home parish, St. Francis of Assisi. After searching for my faith I became a zealous young Catholic attending Mass every day. As I hung around church more I trusted Fr. Craig to be my mentor and he was a priest I admired. I joined the seminary shortly after becoming Catholic with encouragement from Fr. Craig in 2012. I studied to become a priest under the Diocese of Fresno for 3 years and graduated with my Bachelors Degree in Philosophy in 2016. Shortly after graduating I left the Diocese of Fresno on good terms to become a Catholic monk.

Sadly I had to say goodbye to Bakersfield, a community I love, along with friends, family, and others I cared about the most in this world. I had to push them away because of what I experienced with Fr. Craig. I have now been a monk for 3 years and have had a great amount of healing and acceptance.

I was in Fr. Craig’s inner circle from 2011 to 2016 and am a victim of his inappropriate touching, lies, manipulation, and abuse of power.

I witnessed him being inappropriate with children, giving gifts/money, saying sexual jokes, touching, and being alone with them. We are trained as future priests based on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People established in 2002. This type of behavior is advised against in order to create a safe environment for children.

I have also witnessed him taking advantage and controlling the lives of younger men entrusted to him that have had drug or alcohol problems.

I have seen how he builds relationships with high ranking people in the community such as news media, law enforcement, attorneys, judges, business owners, politicians, and other wealthy individuals.

At the beginning of April, the Diocese of Fresno contacted my superiors at the monastery explaining that a 3rd party contacted the Diocese. They encouraged the Diocese to reach out to me believing I had very important information regarding Fr. Craig involving the safety of minors. 

Teresa Dominguez, Chancellor for the Diocese of Fresno, and Cheryl Sarkisian, Victims Assistance Coordinator for the Diocese of Fresno, came and interviewed me and another monk. The other monk was also a seminarian and left Diocese of Fresno on good terms, his home parish was also St. Francis of Assisi in Bakersfield.

They told me one of the names of the men that may be a potential victim. The man brought the allegations forward, no one believed him, and shortly after lost his life, more details to come later. 

The man brought the allegations forward, no one believed him, and shortly after lost his life.

They gave me the name of another potential victim that was still alive that I knew but haven’t seen for many years. They wanted me to reach out to him because I had been away from the Diocese and not connected with anyone in Bakersfield for many years.

After much prayer and the permission of my superiors, I decided to go to California to make a personal visit. The man I went to visited didn’t know why I was coming, he had no idea that Fr. Craig was being investigated by the Diocese. He told me that he had been abused as a minor, and was grateful that I was there. I said to him, “I believe you.” He said it was good I came to visit him because otherwise if a woman from the Diocese called him on the phone, he would think he was being set up by Fr. Craig.

Just to be clear. The Diocese of Fresno came to me and another monk who was also a former seminarian. Learning the gravity of the situation not only with people’s lives being lost but also with minors, I had to act. I talked to the victim on April 11th, and then he was interviewed by the Diocese on April 12th.

That being said, the narrative of allegations of those coming forward for financial gain or trying to destroy a good man’s name is 100% false. 

The reason why I didn’t come forward earlier like many others is that people may not have believed me because of Fr. Craig’s high status in Bakersfield and in the Diocese. He could have easily ruined my chance of becoming a priest or ruined my reputation in Bakersfield.

He made sexual advances toward me which I rejected that caused tension through the years. As a result, I started distancing myself from the church and people I loved the most in this world. During the years of studying to be a priest, I lost my faith, became disillusioned, and questioned why I became Catholic in the first place. 

Thankfully, with the help of friends and many great priests I have healed and now am stronger in my faith. I persevered in my vocation toward priesthood even though my faith was shattered. My faith now is stronger than ever as a monk, and as a Catholic, because I know the Church and the Diocese of Fresno takes allegations of child sex abuse seriously. 

Personally, I have nothing to gain by this. I don’t need money because I am a monk, and I have absolutely no animosity or hard feelings toward Fr. Craig, I have forgiven him for what has done to me. I am here to support victims to come forward and not be afraid to show their faces, because this happened to me, a Catholic monk, and I will stand with you, and I believe you.

I myself am afraid and nervous to come forward, but I have a responsibility to the church and the families of Bakersfield to protect our children and bring clarity to this unfortunate situation. 

All I have said to you are facts and what I have observed and experienced personally with no speculation or guessing. I will not be available for further comments on this because I have to return to my life as a monk in the monastery.

In this time of the scandal, I can relate to how this community is feeling. I had thoughts of leaving the Catholic Church in times of my own struggles over the years. I can easily leave the Church and be a person on the outside who speaks badly about the Church and Catholics. But I realized that I can make a bigger impact on the world if I stay and change it. We have to ask ourselves as a community, are we going to remain faithful when times are hard? In dark times in the Church great saints have emerged, let us all fulfill that call in our time, here and now.

I have had a lot of sleepless nights, shed many tears, and been in great anguish the last couple months over the damage that has been done to this community, and the communities within the Diocese of Fresno. When it comes to our children we all have a responsibility to keep them safe and protected.

All I want is for victims to not feel alone, get them the help they need, and help for Fr. Craig. 

I recently talked to a father of one of the victims and told him, “I did this for your son.” This has been the hardest last couple of months of my life and victims of abuse are struggling, I am here for them, and I am not going anywhere. 

Put your trust in Jesus, and do not be afraid. May God bless this community.

 

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