SNAP Extremely Troubled By Reporting Delay In The Diocese Of Fresno

Msgr. Craig Harrison is the second priest from the Diocese of Fresno in as many months to be suspended from ministry while allegations of the sexual abuse of a minor are investigated.

As concerning as the accusation against Msgr. Harrison is, even more troubling is the Diocese’s response time to these allegations. It took three days for Church officials to contact the police. According to the Diocese’s own spokesperson it was "late Friday" when the allegation was received, yet "Monday is when we were (at the police station) in the morning."

In California, mandatory reporting laws require an "immediate" report by phone, followed up by a written report within thirty-six hours.  The Diocese appears to have neglected the former and missed the deadline for the latter. In three days, victims and witnesses can be threatened, evidence destroyed, perpetrators and enablers “coached” and law enforcement or elected politicians disposed to favor the Church contacted and lobbied. Delays can also give the accused a chance to flee, as happened in the Santa Rosa Diocese.

Law enforcement is open 24/7. Phones work around the clock. We call on the District Attorney of Fresno and any other appropriate authority to examine this delay and bring the appropriate charges. As we have seen in other Dioceses, Catholic bishops appear to have a playbook, and delayed reporting is one of the tactics employed. For the protection of children, this behavior must stop, and the only authorities who can truly put an end to it are outsiders with badges and subpoenas.

We also call on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to examine this situation. It is well past time for the State’s most powerful law enforcement official to step in and confirm the laws of this state designed to protect children are being followed. There appeared to be a recent delay in reporting in the Diocese of Oakland as well.

Msgr. Harrison has said that he is innocent. While we have no first hand information about this case, we know that false allegations are exceedingly rare. We hope that parishioners and other supporters of the priest keep this in mind and support him privately. It is extremely difficult for survivors to come forward, and public demonstrations on behalf of an accused can have a chilling effect on all victims and whistle blowers, not just those who may have information about a particular case.  

California has twelve Catholic Dioceses. The Fresno Diocese is one of four that has not yet published any list of accused priests. The other three are Orange, Sacramento and San Francisco. SNAP believes there would be dozens – if not hundreds – of accused Church workers on any honest, transparent list from these Dioceses. It is past time for Church officials to be open and transparent with their own communities and the public about all the information in their files, including the secret ones. 

In particular, any living accused priest, deacon, brother, nun, or lay employee or volunteer must be identified. The Dioceses should also disclose where these people are now and how they are being monitored. As we saw in the case of Fr. Hernan Toro, advanced age is not a guarantee that an abuser is no longer dangerous.

CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP California (dmcnevin@aol.com, 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California (caljoey1@aol.com, 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, (msakoda@snapnetwork.org, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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