A prayer vigil being held tonight in support of Monsignor Craig Harrison has received some backlash from members of the community, even calling for the cancellation of the event.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, penned a letter to Fresno Catholic Bishop Joseph V. Brennan to cancel the vigil because 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," the letter stated. "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."
Joey Piscitelli, the northern California leader for SNAP, said he's seen vigils such as the one scheduled for 6 p.m. today at St. Francis Church in the past. When a priest has a large following in the community, often their supporters "bash" the alleged victims.
"We understand that a lot of people want to support him, but the problem is that’ll scare alleged victims from coming forward," he said. "They’ll think they’re outnumbered and that they’ll be bashed."
Piscitelli said when he came forward after a priest abused him, supporters of the priest called him a "liar."
"They’re not involved or know what happened," Piscitelli said. "They’re not a party to the act, so how could they call victims liars?"
Piscitelli said he is planning on putting on a vigil for alleged victims the "early part of next week." He and other SNAP members will pass out pamphlets with more information on next steps to take if someone is allegedly abused by a priest.
News of the vigil sparked more than 70 comments on The Californian's Facebook page.
“Poor taste. Just shameful,” wrote Bran Ram. “Have some humility and accept that you don't know anything. Hope for the best. But sending prayers for a man who might have harmed children? Wow.”
“The same people who say (these are) false allegations are the same who are quick to condemn other criminals they don't know, but because they 'know' the monsignor, he's innocent," wrote Tammy Winn. “A vigil, really?? I encourage anyone who has been sexual(ly) abused to come forward. Please do NOT let these people discourage you.”
Winn wrote she had been molested as a child by someone at her church and it took her more than 10 years to speak about it, so she understands how difficult it is to come forward.
Others continue to support Harrison.
"It's called Faith and I have a lot of faith in this man he is NOT a pedophile," wrote Shari Cantrell-Snow. "Funny those who are negative go straight there. Instead of rallying for people like him who have done so good for others and are simply accused....those negative ones....just start trashing."
David Brust, part of a group of five to 10 concerned citizens who will be attending tonight's event, said the vigil is something that would give the community "ease of mind" and is not intended to intimidate people from coming forward if they have been abused.
"The monsignor been so integrated into our community, and loved by so many people that as a community, many people felt that they needed to do something," he said. "Prayer is something that we can all do regardless of what religion we are."
The vigil comes after three allegations of sex abuse have been brought to light against Harrison in the past week. Harrison is currently on paid administrative leave with the Archdiocese of Fresno.