Survivors Advocacy Group Sends Letter to Central Valley DAs
A support group for clergy abuse victims are calling on district attorneys in California’s Central Valley to use their offices to reach out to survivors directly and to denounce actions by a Bakersfield attorney that make it less likely for victims of sexual abuse to come forward.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing to the District Attorneys of Madera, Fresno, Kern, Merced, Mariposa, Tulare, and Inyo Counties following an announcement that these seven DAs will be auditing the Diocese of Fresno. They are asking for special attention to be paid to the case of Msgr. Craig Harrison, who has gone on the attack following multiple accusations of sexual abuse.
“We know from our work that substantiating firsthand accounts of child sex abuse is very difficult for law enforcement under the best of circumstances,” wrote SNAP in its letter. “We fear that the tactics being used by Msgr. Harrison and his lawyer are intended to frighten not only his accusers, but also to prevent witnesses from coming forward.”
SNAP is also asking the DAs to intervene due to Harrison’s close relationship with police departments in the area, something they fear will make survivors afraid to report their abuse to local authorities.
A copy of SNAP’s letter is below:
May 25, 2019
To the District Attorneys of Madera, Fresno, Kern, Merced, Mariposa, Tulare, and Inyo Counties
Due to the intimidating tactics being employed by an accused Catholic priest and his attorney, we are calling on you and others in law enforcement to make a strong public statement, preferably at a news conference, in which you deplore actions that make it less likely for abuse to be reported. By using your public platform, you can not only reassure those who are being hurt now that they are safe when coming forward to police and prosecutors but can also encourage those who may be suffering in silence to stand up and speak out.
We at SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) have followed the accusations against Monsignor Craig Harrison since his suspension was revealed by the Fresno Bishop on April 25. We note that since then, not only have other allegations been made in the press, but we have also received private messages related to Msgr. Harrison, as well as accusations against other clergy from the Fresno Diocese. In each case we have encouraged those parties to contact law enforcement and to file a report with the California Attorney General. We believe yet more witnesses and victims will come forward regarding Msgr. Harrison, as well as other priests named in the press, if they are encouraged to do so. We also believe that we will hear new names of accused clergy in the coming days and weeks.
Recently, Msgr. Harrison and his legal team have ratcheted up their rhetoric and have begun to scorch the earth. Early in this process, we heard from those who wished to remain anonymous because they feared his power and his potential for the tactics we now are seeing. Survivors, generally, are a fragile cohort. The impact of being sexually molested by a trusted adult creates lifelong, unmitigable trauma. The trauma is so great that, according to CHILD USA, one-third of clergy abuse victims never report their abuse or the abuser, and of those who do report, the average age of reporting is 52 years old. The fact that those who are accusing Msgr. Harrison are reporting is their 30’s to mid-40’s is extraordinary.
A former colleague of Msgr. Harrison has come forward, Brother Justin Gilligan, and explicitly stated that the Monsignor made sexual advances towards him. Br. Gilligan also alleges he witnessed sexually inappropriate behavior by Msgr. Harrison involving minors from 2011 to 2016. Any crimes within that time frame are still prosecutable.
We know from our work that substantiating firsthand accounts of child sex abuse is very difficult for law enforcement under the best of circumstances. We fear that the tactics being used by Msgr. Harrison and his lawyer are intended to frighten not only his accusers, but also to prevent witnesses from coming forward.
Moreover, this spectacle is being observed throughout California: other victims of other priests are watching this unfold and doubtlessly assessing whether or not law enforcement has their backs. Will they be safe making reports to police and prosecutors? Our communities would be better off if survivors made these reports. Knowledge about abusers is the only way a trustworthy adults can help protect the children in their care.
Msgr. Harrison is known to be extremely well connected to law enforcement. Until his suspension, he was the chaplain of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and the Bakersfield Police Department. It is imperative, we believe, that any investigations of the Monsignor be crystal clear as to conflicts of interest. If there are conflicts, those conflicted must step away and have no contact with other investigators, survivors, or witnesses.
We ask all of you to cooperate to ensure that these investigations are conducted above board and without even the appearance of impropriety. We also ask that you take whatever steps are necessary to assure victims, witnesses and whistle blowers that their testimony will be heard, they will be safe, and that, as much as possible their identities will be kept out of public view.
Many Diocese of Fresno families are first, second and third generation Latino, and because Msgr. Harrison is alleged to have harmed Latino children, outreach to those communities should be a priority. It obviously also needs to be conducted in both Spanish and in English. In addition, if there are undocumented witnesses or victims, they must be assured that, because California is a “sanctuary state,” they can report without fear of deportation or other reprisals.
Please use your extraordinary powers as elected or appointed officials to do what is right. Forcefully intervene on the behalf of victims and witnesses so that justice may prevail. In addition to becoming more visible on this issue, we believe each county should open a hotline for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to report the harm they have experienced or witnessed or have reason to believe occurred.
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), Esther Hatfield Miller, SNAP Los Angeles (562-673-9442, email@example.com), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.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)