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Columnist Valerie Schultz

Another priest has disappeared from my Catholic radar. For the third time, a priest whose homilies have regularly touched my heart has vanished from the public eye under a veil of scandal.

The most recent one, Monsignor Craig Harrison, has been placed on administrative leave from St. Francis Church pending the findings of criminal and internal investigations into multiple allegations of sexual molestation of boys.

I understand that it is a small percentage of Catholic priests who do this, who are in it for the proximity to young people. I also understand that accusations may turn out to be false. But here we go again. This business of being a Catholic laywoman gets old. Whenever the devastating news hits that another beloved priest has been accused of sex crimes against children, I think of a priest I got to know when I volunteered in a state prison. He was a convicted, notorious, serial child molester who was nevertheless personable and intelligent and — here’s the quality that must be a great help in grooming potential victims and gaining the trust of unsuspecting faithful parents — so charismatic. Surely someone so charismatic, so well-loved and esteemed by the community, couldn’t possibly be so sinful.

The allegations against Monsignor Harrison come from the past, and sadly, predictably, many of the parishioners of St. Francis find them unbelievable and unwelcome. At first Harrison’s accusers spoke only anonymously to the press for fear of the retaliation of the righteous. Now one brave soul has spoken publicly.

But when it’s our priest, we don’t want to hear it. We forget how incredibly hard it is for a victim of abuse to speak out, even though many of us have never revealed to anyone any similar abuse we’ve suffered. We forget that someone coming forward who has been victimized in this particularly awful way must be heard and respected and believed unless proven otherwise.

Since the Church’s own guidelines require immediate investigation and administrative leave for the accused cleric, it was startling that another local priest had this to say to a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian: “‘It’s like Marshall [sic] law,’ said Monsignor Stephen Frost of Christ the King Church in Oildale … For those of us who have a sense of justice, it’s a scandal that the church would treat people like that and not give them any recourse for defense.’”

What? I confess I had to read this quote twice, because I couldn’t believe he was referring to the accused priest. I couldn’t believe the careless dismissal of the alleged victims. Those of us with "a sense of justice" believe in protecting children. The real scandal is that this kind of public statement indicates that, even after decades of proven and atrocious sexual abuse of minors by clergy members and subsequent cover-ups by the hierarchy, the clerical Church is still tone deaf, if not heartless. In the newspaper article, Frost goes in even deeper: “In the case of Monsignor Harrison, Frost points out that the allegations are many years old, and Harrison is no longer an immediate threat to any of his accusers who are now adults so there was no need to pull him out.”

Mother of God.

The argument that the allegations are old and the accusers are now grown up probably doesn’t comfort the parents of actual children in the parish. The good monsignor is pointing out his own cluelessness about legitimate parental concerns. Regarding adults who are in regular contact with our children, we parents want vigilance. We want oversight. We want our kids to be safe from predators, no matter how charismatic they are. In fact, we insist. We are willing to suspend judgment until the outcome of the investigation, but in the meantime, we’ll stick with a healthy dose of doubt.

Given that our institution’s past transgressions have robbed so many young people of their innocence, their sense of self-worth, their trust, and their very faith in God, our skepticism is understandable. Given our documented blindness of yesteryear, we Catholics have some atoning to do. With eyes wide open, we must be especially sensitive to believing and supporting and defending all children, past, present and future. History has its eyes on us.

Dear Lord, will the blind ever see?

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com.

(6) comments

Gene Pool Chlorinator

"The allegations against Monsignor Harrison come from the past, and sadly, predictably, many of the parishioners of St. Francis find them unbelievable and unwelcome."
Yes Valerie, I would imagine most people would initially have these feelings- especially given the fact Msgr has helped many in this community (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) throughout his tenure at St. Francis.
I would believe it more strange if people found the accusations believable and welcome- that would truly indicate something much more sinister at play, wouldn't it?
You mentioned all accusers should be believed until proven otherwise. Is this the standard we really want to live by- where someone can have their life ruined with an accusation and NO compelling evidence? I know someone who almost lost everything he had worked for many years to obtain because he was falsely accused of sexual assault by a woman who later confessed to doing it "to get back at him" for breaking up with her. I would hope that if you have sons, you would want a higher standard of proof if, God forbid, they were ever accused of such a crime.
Look, bottom line here is that if Msgr Harrison did these things, he should be punished- I don't see anyone out there saying anything otherwise and if they are, they are outliers. I'm just saying let the system run its course and have a full and honest accounting of the stories being presented to law enforcement.
I'm saddened to see people like yourself accusing anyone supporting Msgr. Harrison of disrespecting and/or diminishing any of the accusers- I'm not sure who started that one (SNAP??), but it's a ridiculous argument. Support of one side doesn't indicate a disdain for the other. If more people would realize that, many of the ills we face as a people could be mitigated significantly...

Jerry Todd

Today’s Californian is rife with clues of where we are going, including the incessant mocking of a great President by the weenies from the Washington Post and a severely limited source of political cartoons and common sense letter writers.

Now states are considering laws that make any form of child abuse a timeless offense - the unforgivable sin that once was the denial of the Holy Spirit. Same states are rapidly and cheerfully approving infanticide, the ultimate child abuse. They also convince anyone with bad memories of encounters with adults are a special group who must be compensated, no matter how long ago. Like descendants of slaves who want compensation for their ancestors’ sufferings.

I believe Msgr Frost was trying to say how many lives have to be destroyed when a leader is accused - or even may have a period in life where he/she did something stupid. “Remember not the sins of my youth…”

Is the song of the 60’s so outdated? “We shall overcome some day…?” Does this mean overcome or get even? At the cost of how many people once served, or human service organizations trying to do their best to correct past errors, being forced into bankruptcy? How are the spoils divided?

The logical result is the last stage of societal desruction - government takeover of lives and morality, including the creation of a 2-class dependent society as we are seeing in California. Democrat Socialism? Certainly.

Danielle

What a vile, toxic statement. It is beyond comprehension why some feel no shame in picking and choosing what should be considered criminal and what isn't, based solely on the amount of time that has passed and their own tolerance quota for the number of crimes of the same nature. You breezily overlook the rampant criminality of your "great" president, reducing his many (MANY) justified critics to "weenies". There's an elegant political argument for you. Please don't wait to cash in your "give a d*mn" card until YOU become a victim of crime, for you just might find the response to your plight as cold and cruel as your comments above.

Jerry Todd

In accusing me of vile and toxic statements, followed by the usual mantra of vile comments about the President, shows me who might be making toxic comments. Yeah, I call a lot of so-called journalists, radical left, Democrat socialists, RINO's and other recalcitrants "weenies." Saves a lot of ink.

I'm sorry I didn't make it clear that I'm trying to see an end to this nonsense. You don't know if I've ever been a victim of crime. You have nothing to back up the President's "rampant criminality." As a highly successful real estate developer and builder, having largely to deal with crooked big city politicians and union bosses, who knows? You know how those folks vote. I didn't fall off a turnip truck yesterday.

I broadened the discussion to demonstrate the efforts to bring down anyone who doesn't fit the "progressive" template must be stopped. I know which President told the Russian premier that "for all practical purposes, the US Constitution is dead."

I don't think the President's feminist opponent in 2016 was innocent of the 52 dead people in her trail from Arkansas or selling 20% of our Uranium resources to the Russians, making over $150 million for the effort.

Oh, I care about people, all right. I thought too about the fruit that has been borne by 2 imperfect men as I watched the Awards Mass at his school this morning. It was in a big new building on the campus he saw to it was built. Same for resurrecting a dying parish, complete with a total overhaul and a huge new youth center. Over on Baker Street he made sure the homeless are fed, clothed and showered every day. He was there for me when I was stage 4 cancer 13 years ago with what CBCC told me was 2 months to live. Stop me now before I get emotional like the accusers who encourage possibly real victims to seek revenge. I'd rather think they, we, you and I "shall overcome," as the 60's song entoned. But that's just me. Kept me from getting ulcers, even if I got cancer.

GaryJohns

Valerie, Your articles are "A Crisis Without End"....

Eauchiche

Thanks, Valerie, for an excellent article.

I am no fan of Pope Francis, but believe he could be right when he blames "clericalism" for the current abuse crisis. This is a part of Catholicism that I find very troubling: when a guy wears a collar, he can do no wrong.

I also can't help but draw a comparison between this situation and other priests who have been suspended. They have chosen to remain quiet rather than engage in the very public denunciations of accusers we have seen over the past several weeks.

I have no way of knowing whether the recent accusations are true or false, but I see a much deeper problem at St. Francis that makes it almost cult-like.

I wish the new bishop of this diocese well and offer prayers for him.

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