Diocese Pays $2 Million to Settle Abuse Lawsuit Involving Ex-Smchs Principal
By Martin Henderson
June 19, 2012
Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange have settled in court with a decorated military pilot over an alleged sexual abuse incident that took place about 25 years ago.
The diocese agreed to pay John Doe $2 million, ending a civil suit centered around Michael Harris, who at the time was the principal at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana.
Harris, who was also a priest, went on to become the founding principal at Santa Margarita Catholic High, which opened in 1987.
Jury selection was supposed to begin Tuesday in the Orange County Superior courtroom of Judge Ronald L. Bauer. The pretrial settlement was reached about 9:30 p.m. Monday, after hours of negotiating.
Harris, who resigned as principal in 1994, reportedly from stress, was stripped of his priesthood later that year and laicized—made a lay person—in 2002.
Once nicknamed Father Hollywood for his charisma, Harris has steadfastly maintained his innocence and has never been charged criminally, but he has nevertheless been at the center of millions of dollars in settlements by the diocese.
He had previously been a defendant in a 2001 lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church in which $5.2 million was awarded to former Santa Margarita Catholic student Ryan DiMaria. A 2004 report on sexual abuse by the clergy listed 12 accusers against Harris, nine of whom settled with the diocese.
The plaintiff in the new case is an Air Force lieutenant colonel who has flown combat missions over several military hot spots, including Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The settlement by the diocese clears it from further liability but doesn't technically cover Harris. However, an attorney for John Doe said the lawsuit would be dropped against Harris because he doesn't have anything.
The agreement also will include an apology, which was requested by the victim.
According to John Doe, the incident at the center of the lawsuit took place in either 1986 or 1987 after he became a schoolyard hero for chasing down a purse thief and holding the culprit until authorities arrived.
Harris allegedly called John Doe into his office to give him a rosary blessed by the Pope as well as a small gift. He then allegedly grabbed the student's penis and orally copulated him.