SNAP Wants Vigil for Accused Priest Canceled
Abuse group wants event cancelled
Vigil is planned tonight for accused priest
“That intimidates other victims,” organization says
SNAP: Bishop should tell his flock to “stay home tonight”
A support group is asking Fresno’s Catholic bishop to beg parishioners to cancel a vigil in support of an accused child molesting cleric.
In a letter sent today, leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, say that the event “will impede a police investigation and deter others who may have seen, suspected or suffered abuse from coming forward.”
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by email, is 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 ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Joey Piscitelli, SNAP California ([email protected], 925-262-3699) Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator, ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9099)
(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)