A small California community in shock after its beloved pastor was suspended over allegations of homosexual predation.
The case, involving abuse of young men, with evidence of at least one suicide, is exposing homosexuality and financial corruption in the Fresno diocese, under a bishop who appeared to look the other way.
Yet remarkably, the community is protecting its priest.
Hello, I’m Michael Voris. Welcome to this special report, where we’ll look at the case of Msgr. Craig Harrison, an over-the-top popular priest in Bakersfield, California, now on leave after multiple men claim are coming forward accusing him of sexually abusing them.
Harrison is a favorite son in Bakersfield, born and raised there, a priest for more than three decades, pastor at St. Francis Church for 20 years, chaplain to the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Even a building and street are named after him, as well as being a prolific fundraiser for the diocese.
Unusually, Harrison adopted four boys and has legal guardianship over another four, many whom he met when he ran a home for troubled teens in poorer towns of Merced and Firebaugh.
The most disturbing allegations come from his time living with these troubled youth.
Stephen Brady, who has made something of a career rooting out homopredators was recently in Bakersfield.
“It’s totally inappropriate for a priest to adopt children,” said Brady. “And Fr. Harrison has a lot of money around him — different people donating vehicles to him, all the money he’s soliciting, for helping these boys, these troubled kids, if you will, and that whole scenario reeks of corruption, because what bishop in their right mind would allow a priest to adopt several children?”
Harrison had won an award for his foster care work, getting large donations helping young men get off the street and away from a life of drugs or prostitution.
But accusers say he preyed on the very boys he promised to help, using his foster care service to single out vulnerable young men — and use them for sex.
The diocese of Fresno officially learned of allegations against Harrison on April 12, involving a 16-year-old altar boy claiming the priest groped him three different times.
Three days later, they reported the allegation to police, and on April 25 Harrison was suspended from ministry.
Since then, five more men have come forward accusing the priest of abuse, one of them filing a police report as recently as May 8.
The only alleged victim to go public so far is 30-year-old Br. Justin Gilligan, a former member of Harrison’s parish, who said in a public statement, “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.”
He goes on to say, “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.”
Harrison is denying everything, instead smearing the alleged victims calling them liars and accusing Gilligan of a drinking problem.
Gilligan tells Church Militant he is standing by his charge, which also included a prediction Harrison would attempt to destroy his reputation.
Gilligan and his family have been the target of sustained attacks by supporters of the powerful monsignor, who’s secured four attorneys to defend him.
In the face of Harrison’s denials, this isn’t the first time he’s been suspected of abuse. Police received an accusation more than 20 years ago, in 1998.
The diocese conducted an internal review, dismissing the claim as not credible. That was under the late Bp. John Steinbock 0151 a bishop with a reputation for covering up homosexual predation.
The new bishop, Joseph Brennan, installed just last month, wants the case re-opened and re-examined in light of all the allegations coming to light.
The 1998 claim involved a male teen who lived in the rectory of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Firebaugh in the early 1990s.
He claims Harrison would inspect his genitals each night under the pretext that the examination would reveal whether the boy had done drugs.
The allegation is idential to that of another boy who lived in one of Harrison’s homes for troubled teens.
Church Militant has obtained a 2004 official report issued by former FBI agent Tom Walsh, who learned from a former resident of one of the boys’ homes 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 conduct is also identical to two other accusers who’ve recently stepped forward, saying Harrison would also inspect their genitals citing the same reasons.
Another alleged victim claims Harrison pinned him against the wall and rubbed his erect penis against him.
Most of the alleged victims are Latino males from troubled backgrounds.
The 2004 FBI investigator’s report goes on to detail evidence of at least one suicide of a boy who lived with Harrison. That suicide was independently corroborated by Br. Gilligan.
The report also notes possible financial malfeasance regarding the thousands in funds the priest solicited on behalf of his boys’ homes.
Walsh’s FBI report continues, “I have learned that there never has been an accounting of the funds. There has never been an itemization as to how the funds were spent and for what end. There has never been identification made of the children that benefited from the solicitations.”
Even today, 15 years on, issues of financial wrongdoing are still in question.
“Father Harrison has a bad gambling problem, allegedly, but this one individual I spoke to said he was with him when Harrison had $40,000 in cash in a fanny pack at a casino,” Brady said. “He said he’s a high roller, he constantly gambles, so one has to wonder where on earth does this money come from?”
Brady has also unearthed a 2004 email from a young man detailing his sexual encounters with Harrison: “I attended St. Joseph’s Church in Firebaugh while Fr. Craig Harrison was pastor. In that time, I personally had two sexual encounters and one semi-sexual encounter with him. Twice in his son Herculano’s bedroom and the other in the back of his Ford Explorer.”
The relationship ended when he walked in on Harrison engaging in gay sex with another man.
When the student confessed his sexual sins to a visiting Franciscan, he was told to remain quiet and “give it to God.”
The student said he knew about nine young men who’d had sex with Harrison.
The letter was sent to then-Vicar General Msgr. Myron Cotta, who served under Bp. Steinbock — but nothing was ever done.
Today the community continues to rally around the priest, parishioners and fellow clergy refusing to believe the allegations, even local media defending him.
Instead, the alleged victims are being blamed.
“Everybody believes the priest, nobody wants to believe this victim. They don’t pick on the judge’s son for a victim,” said Brady. “They pick on homeless kids, they pick on street kids, they pick on the individuals that can’t fight back or don’t have parents who can fight back, so his smearing of those coming forward — I think it’s just standard procedure, it’s a natural defense.”
Sources have told Church Militant even Bakersfield Police are compromised, dragging their feet on removing him as chaplain, even as the abuse allegations come to light.
Church Militant asked the Bakersfield Police Department whether any other police reports had ever been filed against Harrison.
No response to date.
This case parallels the Fr. Robert DeLand case in Saginaw, Michigan, who is now behind bars for homosexual assault.
Like DeLand, Harrison is a longtime priest, enormously popular among locals, raising a lot of money for his diocese.
Just as with DeLand, locals are rallying around Harrison, convinced of his innocence while attacking his victims.
And like DeLand, Harrison is proclaiming his innocence, even in the face of multiple accusers, many of them vulnerable young men with troubled backgrounds whom Harrison ostensibly sought out to help, but who they say became his victims.
In our next installment, another Fresno priest busted for gay predation, removed from ministry, with evidence stretching back decades of homosexual misconduct and financial malfeasance, while the bishop turned a blind eye.
Watch the panel discuss a wayward Fresno cleric and his complicit superiors in The Download—California Homopredator Priest.