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 email@example.com.