When I was 9-years-old, someone had to tell me that my aunt, whom I loved more than I can express, passed away. My parents were at a loss. They turned to Monsignor Craig Harrison, then Father Craig.
He sat my sister and me down and told us the news. It went about as well as giving such difficult news can go. He gave us each a copy of a book he wrote called “Angel Girl.” Twelve years later, I teared up while reading the message he wrote inside my book: “Rylee — May the angels above, especially Aunt Shell, bless you. Love, Fr. Craig.”
When I heard that Monsignor Craig was being put on leave, I was devastated. Allegations of this nature are extremely serious, and should be given the attention they deserve by the authorities. Just because allegations are heard, however, does not mean that they can be immediately believed, absent evidence. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests urged Bishop Joseph V. Brennan of Fresno to prevent the prayer vigil that occurred Wednesday for Monsignor Craig. Its argument was that victims of abuse will be deterred from coming forward in other situations if they see that the community is rallying around a priest accused of sexual assault. This argument makes sense. It is also not fair.
Monsignor Craig is not just a priest accused of sexual assault, acting as a scapegoat for the horrible crimes by members of the global church that have come to light in the past year. He is a member of our community. He is a friend. He is a human being. Just like any person, Monsignor Craig has the right to the presumption of innocence. The burden of proof falls on the prosecution in a court of law for a reason because we as a nation shudder at the idea of an innocent person being wrongfully convicted. The fact that the alleged crime is so heinous should make us cling tighter to the presumption of innocence, not abandon it.
To hear members of the community reacting with such vitriol to the idea of supporting a man whose guilt has not been proven is discouraging. No one should mistreat the alleged victims in a situation of this nature. The intention of the vigil was not to call anyone a liar. Rather, the intention was to stand by a man who has not been given his fair day in court yet. All that Monsignor Craig is asking for from his community is for us to keep an open mind. He was there for me in my hard time, I plan to be there for him during his.
Rylee Smith is a journalism student at Cal State Bakersfield. He can be reached at Ryleeclaires@gmail.com.