|Sex Abuse Victims Blast NY Archbishop over Harlem Pastor
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests
September 16, 2010
Clergy sex abuse victims are blasting New York's Catholic archbishop for "quietly and deceptively" letting a suspended alleged serial pedophile priest resign and write a "deceitful, self-pitying" letter to his former parishioners last Sunday in which nothing was said about the child sex accusations against him.
In a letter of his own to parishioners at St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem, Dolan revealed that Msgr. Wallace A. Harris, who was suspended in 2008, would not be returning. But Dolan also said nothing about the fact that at least ten men have reported being molested as boys by Harris in the 1970s and 1980s.
"It's just mean-spirited of Dolan to let a predator write a deceitful, self-pitying letter to parishioners essentially denying his guilt," said David Clohessy of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Is this Dolan's new policy with predators – resigning instead of being ousted, getting one last shot to win sympathy and put their 'spin' on their crimes, and basically discouraging others who were sexually assaulted from coming forward?"
Harris' letter, apparently given out at masses last weekend, mentions several alleged health problems he allegedly is experiencing.
"Because Dolan has chosen to be duplicitous, we suspect some parishioners will continue to believe Harris is innocent," said Barbara Dorris of SNAP. "That means they'll still trust their kids around him so it's highly possible that Harris will again be able to sexually assault another Catholic child."
"Harris should be on record as 'permanently removed from ministry due to multiple credible child sex abuse reports,'" said Dorris. "Instead, because Dolan is so callous and reckless, Harris will go around presenting himself as a retired priest, which of course opens many more doors to families and positions of power and access to kids."
"If you want to protect kids, you make it crystal clear that a cleric is a child predator," said Clohessy. "If, however, you want to protect the church's reputation, staff and money, you make it all murky and enable people to live in doubt and denial. That's what Dolan is doing, and it leaves children vulnerable and victims wounded."
SNAP is also highly critical that the archdiocese's process of dealing with Harris took more than two years. The group is upset that Dolan did not announce his decision to not re-instate Harris to the diocese and the metro area through a news conference or news release.
"It's interesting to see America's most media-hungry bishop not even sending out a news release about one of the archdiocese's most prominent accused priests," said Clohessy. "There may be dozens of Harris victims scattered across the New York area and beyond. But Dolan clearly doesn't want them to learn about this news or reach out to them offering help."
For months after Harris was suspended in 2008, some parishioners hung posters on parish property by the church's front doors expressing strong backing for Harris, with phrases like "We'll stand by you, Msgr. Harris," "Don't believe the media hype," "Born, raised, worked in Harlem," and "One of ours."
SNAP believes allowing such public displays of support for accused child molesting clerics, especially on church property, scares others with information about child sex crimes who might otherwise speak up.
"The archdiocese is at best tolerates and at worst sanctions a hurtful, intimidating 'mob atmosphere' that frightens victims, witnesses and whistleblowers into staying silent," said Dorris. "That, in turn, puts children at greater risk of being molested and rubs even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of adults who were victimized as kids."
Harris isn't the only predator priest to have worked at St. Charles Borromeo. In 2003, Fr. Francis Xavier Nelson was convicted of molesting a 12 year old girl in Brooklyn.
According to the New York Times, "church officials supervising (Nelson) had been aware of the allegations in 1999 and considered them credible, but he was allowed to transfer from Brooklyn to the Archdiocese of New York."
According to BishopAccountability.org, Nelson "has since returned to his church in the diocese of Kottar in southern India, where he works in the bishop's office."
St. Charles Borromeo is the home parish of New York Governor David Patterson.
Harris was the event coordinator for Pope Benedict's Sunday afternoon Mass at Yankee Stadium earlier in 2008.
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