BAKERSFIELD, Calif. —
The Survivors Network of those Abused By Priests (SNAP) is calling for the vigil scheduled tonight for Monsignor Craig Harrison to be canceled
On April 25, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno confirmed with 23ABC News that Monsignor Craig Harrison of St. Francis Church in Bakersfield, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation surrounding sexual misconduct allegations made by a man who says he was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse.
According to a letter, sent by leaders of SNAP, the vigil being held tonight would “impede a police investigation and deter others who may have seen, suspected or suffered abuse from coming forward.”
A copy of SNAP's letter can be read below:
Dear Bishop Brennan:
As you no doubt know, tonight some of your flock plans to hold a vigil in support of an accused molester. Please, for the sake of innocent kids, wounded victims, law enforcement and indeed for your diocese itself, we beg you to do all you can to stop this ill-advised event.
It will impede a police investigation and deter others who may have seen, suspected or suffered abuse from coming forward.
Backers of Msgr. Craig Harrison are no doubt well-intentioned. Still, they’ll do great harm tonight if they proceed. As their shepherd, you can – and should – guide them. You must tell them their vigil will scare and depress others, including kids who are being molested today by other predators, into staying silent. That will endanger more children.
Imagine you’re fourteen. Your coach is abusing you. He says “If you tell, no one will believe you.” You know he’s popular and charismatic. You’re torn. Then, you turn on the TV and see Catholics insisting that their popular and charismatic priest is innocent. Imagine how that would feel. Imagine that struggling child then withdrawing further into his or her shell, keeping quiet, and continuing to suffer. And imagine that coach molesting two or three other kids at the same time.
That’s not what you want. That’s not what Msgr. Harrison’s supporters want. But based on our 30 years of experience in this field, that’s precisely what will happen if this vigil proceeds.
If people want to believe Fr. Harrison is innocent, that’s their right. They should pray for him, bring him food, visit him and send him cards. But it’s wrong and hurtful and reckless to publicly rally around credibly accused child molesters. Support him if you must, but do so in private, and in ways that don’t discourage others who are being assaulted from stepping forward, protecting themselves, exposing criminals and sparing others decades of horrific pain. For examples of ways that parishioners can support their priest without intimidating victims, read this document and share it with the parishioners in your diocese.
We can predict your initial response: “Parishioners are free to do what they want. I can’t order them around.” Sure, you can’t compel them to do this or that. But you and other Catholic officials can – and do – tell them what’s right all the time. Sadly, however, many of your colleagues pretend to be powerless in abuse cases when that’s not the case at all.
“But we have free speech in this country. Parishioners have the right to speak out if they want to,” someone will claim. And of course, free speech is valuable. But this freedom should be exercised carefully, in ways that don’t frighten confused kids into staying trapped in abusive situations. It should be exercised with caution, so witnesses and whistleblowers that police and prosecutors rely on aren’t paralyzed with fear into keeping their mouths shut because powerful individuals and institutions are backing an alleged criminal.
Please don’t be passive here, Bishop. Please show real courage. Please side with the vulnerable, not the powerful.
We look forward to hearing from you right away.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member (firstname.lastname@example.org, 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California (email@example.com, 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, (firstname.lastname@example.org, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (email@example.com, 517-974-9099)
The vigil is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m. at St Francis Church on 900 H Street.
23ABC has reached out to the church for comment, but have not heard back as of yet.