Bakersfield

Monk reveals misconduct allegations against Bakersfield priest Harrison

A Catholic monk came forward Tuesday to share allegations of sexual misconduct against popular Bakersfield Monsignor Craig Harrison.

Harrison has been at the center of renewed scrutiny of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno as multiple allegations of misconduct have surfaced – starting with an allegation from his time serving in Firebaugh.

On Tuesday, Brother Justin Gilligan, previously known as Ryan Dixon, went public to provide a picture of Harrison’s alleged conduct, as first reported by KGET and The Bakersfield Californian.

Gilligan became Catholic in 2011 and previously served with Harrison at Harrison’s current parish – St. Francis of Assisi. The Bakersfield native ultimately graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the Diocese of Fresno in 2016 before departing the Diocese on good terms.

He became a monk in the Order of St. Benedict and currently serves in a monastery in the Pacific Northwest, the Bakersfield Californian reported.

Gilligan said he was contacted by the Diocese of Fresno in early April after it was informed by a third party that Gilligan may have had information regarding Harrison’s conduct with minors.

Gilligan, the Californian reported, allegedly played a role in convincing the potential victim from Firebaugh to report his alleged abuse to the Diocese.

The monk was eventually interviewed by Diocesan representatives and later by Bakersfield and Firebaugh police officers.

On Tuesday, Gilligan issued the following statement:

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. 

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.

In response to Gilligan’s revelations, Harrison’s attorney, Kyle Humphrey, told KGET he that he wasn’t shocked by the allegations made.

“This 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 the ‘Game of Thrones,’ players with individual motives to build their own little kingdoms.”

Gilligan said that he is not seeking financial gain from Harrison or the diocese as part of his revelations.

“I don’t need the money because I am a monk,” Gilligan said. “I have no animosity or hard feelings towards Father Craig. I have forgiven him for what he has done to me.”

Currently, district attorneys from across the San Joaquin Valley and the California Attorney General are probing the records of the Catholic Diocese of Fresno to identify potential un-prosecuted crimes committed by the clergy.

Meanwhile, the Diocese is in the midst of an internal review dating back to 1922, headed by a former high-ranking FBI official.

Harrison was placed on administrative leave on April 25, following the public release of the first allegation centered in Firebaugh. Since then, allegations have surfaced in Merced and Bakersfield, as well. He remains on leave.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.