Catholic Monk Joins Msgr. Craig Harrison Accusers
By Olivia LaVoice
May 21, 2019
It's been almost a month since Msgr. Craig Harrison was put on leave pending an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
We've seen huge support for Msgr. Harrison, and we've seen support from victim advocacy groups for the men who've come forward.
In an exclusive interview, we hear from someone still part of the Catholic clergy.
Speaking out against another member of the church is something he says he never imagined he'd do, but after much prayer and many sleepless nights, he says he know this is the right thing.
But we want to start with reaction from Harrison's attorney to the clergy member's statement.
"I'm not shocked," attorney Kyle Humphrey said. "This is an effort to frame and destroy Fr. Craig as a means to get to the deep pockets of the church.
Humphrey said, "This is very much like the 'Game of Thrones,' players with individual motives to build their own little kingdoms."
17'S Olivia LaVoice has his story.
Brother Justin Gilligan said coming forward is the hardest decision he's ever made.
As a Catholic monk and someone studying to become a priest, speaking out against another priest is almost unheard of, but he said he couldn't stand by and watch people misinterpret how the events unfolded in the early stages of the Harrison investigation.
Gilligan said he also felt the first person to publicly come forward with accusations against Harrison would likely be attacked by Msgr. Harrison's supporters and his attorney.
Br. Justin felt compelled to try to bear that burden for other potential victims.
He also wants it to be clear the diocese is aggressively investigating all accusations, including things that happened to him in Bakersfield.
He didn't want to go on camera, and there are certain details he can share only with law enforcement, but he came to speak with 17 News, and tearfully read a statement, with a message he feels everyone needs to hear.
|A statement from Br. Justin Gilligan O.S.B. provided to 17 News. Br. Justin did not want to go on camera for this story. 17's Olivia LaVoice read his statement.|
Br. Justin Gilligan spent the last three years out of state in a monastery as a Catholic monk living a simple life of solitude, but before the 30-year-old took his vows, he spent most of his time at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bakersfield, alongside Msgr. Craig Harrison.
Br. Justin is his religious name, but he says people in Bakersfield would know him as Ryan Dixon.
He once thought his calling was in politics, but by 2011 that changed.
As Br. Justin describes it, he was a zealous young Catholic, attending mass every day.
He says Harrison became a mentor he trusted and admired. With Harrison's encouragement, he joined the seminary, and studied to be a priest under the Diocese of Fresno for three years.
After graduating with his bachelor's degree, he moved from the diocese to the monastery.
While Br. Justin left on good terms, no one ever knew what drove him to leave until now.
Br. Justin's involvement in the Harrison investigation began in early April, about three weeks before Harrison was put on leave by the diocese. That's when two administrators from the Diocese of Fresno contacted Br. Justin's superiors at the monastery.
They explained they'd been contacted by a third party, encouraging them to contact Br. Justin, believing he had important information regarding Harrison.
Br. Justin said after learning the gravity of the situation involving allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, he knew he had to act.
He said he was ready to tell the diocese what he experienced and witnessed being in Harrison's inner circle from 2011 to 2016.
As he puts it in the statement he read to us, he was a victim of Harrison's "inappropriate touching, lies, manipulation, and abuse of power." He adds: "I witnessed him being inappropriate with children, giving gifts, money, saying sexual jokes, touching, and being alone with them."
But when the members of the diocese arrived at his monastery, Justin learned they needed his help with more than just his own experiences.
This is when Br. Justin learned the name of a potential victim, a man he once knew, but hadn't had contact with in years.
Br. Justin says "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 lots of prayer and with permission from his superiors, Br. Justin left the monastery and flew to California to meet with the man we're calling John Doe 1.
Justin explains it's a big deal for a monk to come out of solitude and leave the monastery -- a decision he didn't take lightly.
When he arrived he says, John Doe 1 "didn't know why I was coming, he had no idea 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.'"
John Doe 1 also told Br. Justin it was good it was Justin who came to see him, because if it had been someone from the diocese "He would think he was being set up by Fr. Craig."
The next day, April 12, John Doe 1 was interviewed by the diocese.
On Monday, April 15, the first day of Holy Week, the diocese contacted law enforcement.
Three days after Easter, 12 days after the diocese interviewed John Doe 1, Harrison was put on administrative leave.
Br. Justin wants it to be clear the diocese came to him to help facilitate them speaking to the man we call John Doe 1.
Justin says "The narrative of allegations of those coming forward for financial gain or trying to destroy a good man's name is 100% false."
Since then we have learned of two previously reported allegations against harrison are being re-investigated by the diocese and various law enforcement agencies.
And three other men, including John Doe 1, came forward for the first time with allegations last month, this according to attorney Joseph George.
Br. Justin says he understands why they didn't come forward earlier.
Justin says he didn't come forward earlier because he felt due to Harrison's high status in Bakersfield and the diocese, people may not have believed him, and Harrison could've "easily ruined my chance of becoming a priest or ruined my reputation in Bakersfield."
Br. Justin says he still feels fear about coming forward, but also feels he has a responsibility to the church to "protect our children and bring clarity to this unfortunate situation." He feels people need to know that as a young man in the seminary, Harrison "made sexual advances to me which I rejected that caused tension through the years."
He says this caused him to lose his faith.
It took time, but he says his faith is now stronger than ever, especially knowing the diocese takes allegations of child sex abuse seriously.
He wants people of the church to know he can relate to their pain during this time of scandal. And says since being visited by members of the diocese, he's had many sleepless nights, shed many tears, and been in great anguish. But he encourages parishoners to stay strong, and have compassion for those coming forward.
As he is the first person to publicly come forward with allegations against Harrison, he wants the community to know "I have nothing to gain by this. I don't need money because I am a monk, and I have no animosity or hard feelings towards Fr. Craig. I have forgiven him for what he 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."
In one particularly emotional experience, Br. Justin recently spoke with the father of a potential victim who is now deceased, but before that man's death, his claims of abuse weren't believed, Br. Justin says.
Br. Justin told his father, "I did this for your son."
Br. Justin is back at the monastery, but before returning, he cooperated with various California law enforcement agencies.
Attorney for Msgr. Harrison, Kyle Humphrey says Harrison has never inappropriately touched anyone and plans to fully exonerate Harrison.
The multi-agency investigation into allegations against Msgr. Harrison is very complex, dealing with highly sensitive issues.
It's a topic 17 News has been looking into and will have more news for you soon.
Below is Br. Justin Gilligan's full statement to 17 News:
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.