Signs of support for accused priest Monsignor Craig Harrison are beginning to pop up around Bakersfield.
At least 200 corrugated plastic signs stating "We support Monsignor Craig Harrison" were given out recently at the store on 18th Street where his adopted son works, prompting an order for 100 more.
The black-and-white signs, measuring 12 inches by 18 inches, have been posted in front of at least a few local businesses since they were first made available last weekend.
One such business is H. Walker’s Mens Clothing & Accessories on 17th Street. Owner Tracy Kiser said she wanted to show her support for a friend and customer.
"We're just proud of who he is and what he's done for our community," Kiser said of Harrison.
The signs were ordered and paid for by local lawyer Dan Raytis, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, where Monsignor Harrison worked as pastor until being placed on leave in April over allegations he sexually abused a minor while serving as a priest in Firebaugh. Other accusers have since come forward making similar accusations against Harrison.
Raytis said he and his family alone came up with the idea of having the signs printed. He said the signs speak for themselves.
"We love Craig and we support him and we'd love to have him back as a pastor at our church," he said.
Roy Keenan, one of Harrison's adopted sons, said he agreed to place Raytis' signs for anyone to come pick up outside Lucas Silver, the jewelry store where he works. They went fast, he said.
"The first 100 went quick, the second 100 went quick," he said.
A representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which placed Harrison on leave while it investigates the accusations against him, declined to comment.
A group representing victims abused by priests issued a statement by email calling on the diocese's leader, Bishop Joseph Vincent Brennan, to "rein in" the "well-intentioned but hurtful flock."
"We beg Bakersfield citizens to act more responsibly and less callously, by refusing these signs," David G. Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, wrote. "We ask Monsignor Harrison's supporters to ask themselves, 'What if it was my kid who was hurt here?' and 'Will publicly endorsing Monsignor Harrison make it harder or easier for victims of other accused abusers step forward?'"
Harrison's primary lawyer, Kyle Humphrey, said the signs are just the latest and most visible indication of the continuing support for a man who is revered in the community.
"Those of us that love and have confidence in Craig, we remain supportive and quietly respectful," he said. "Everywhere he goes people come up to him."