Priest Taken off Duty
Diocese Reacts to Sex Charge
By David E. Kepple and Amy Baldwin
Dayton Daily News
June 27, 1994
The Rev. Ellis N. Harsham, the Wright State University campus minister accused of sexual abuse last fall in a sensational lawsuit that attracted international attention, has been placed on administrative leave of absence by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
A statement from Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said Harsham was placed on leave after church officials' "substantiation of an allegation of child abuse brought against Father Harsham. The alleged abuse occurred during the early 1970s."
The statement from Pilarczyk was read during weekend Masses at St. Luke Catholic Church in Beavercreek, where Harsham has lived and occasionally assisted with pastoral duties for the past 13 years, while working full-time for the Wright State campus ministry program.
Under terms of the archdiocese's Decree on Child Abuse, "substantiation" of the charge does not necessarily mean officials regard it as proven conclusively.
Harsham will receive his regular salary and benefits pending final resolution of the matter.
Harsham, 52, of Beavercreek was named along with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago in a lawsuit filed by Steven J. Cook of Philadelphia last November.
Cook, a former Cincinnati resident, claimed that Harsham and Bernardin sexually abused him when he was a minor attending a pre-seminary program in Cincinnati during the mid-1970s.
In February, Cook cleared Bernardin, saying his memories of abuse by Bernardin which arose during and after hypnosis were unreliable. Then in April, he reached an out-of-court settlement with the archdiocese concerning his claims against Harsham.
Harsham could not be reached for comment Sunday. The Rev. William J. Kramer, pastor of St. Luke's, said Harsham was away from the parish during the weekend.
Harsham's attorney, Thomas W. Miller of Cincinnati, said, "Obviously, the matter has never been substantiated in a court of law, and the allegations are some 20 years old."
But Miller added: "Father Harsham wants to continue to serve in his ministry, and he's going to obey the findings of the archbishop."
Pilarczyk's statement said Harsham's leave took effect Saturday. "Last November, after Mr. Steven Cook filed his suit against Father Harsham .
. . several other complaints involving (Harsham) were reported to the archdiocese," Pilarczyk said, adding that the most recent date involved in the complaints was 1981.
"Only one of these additional complaints alleged sexual contact or conduct with a minor, as defined in Ohio law," Pilarczyk said. "It is this case which the archdiocese now considers substantiated. Father Harsham has denied ever having sexual contact with a minor, including in this particular case."
Pilarczyk said Harsham will briefly continue living at the St. Luke parish rectory, until arrangements are made for "residential evaluation" outside the archdiocese. Any decision about reinstatement will await the outcome of that evaluation and any recommended treatment, the archbishop said.
He also said a response team has been formed to "listen to those most directly affected and develop a plan for responding to their needs."
Ray George, communications director for the archdiocese, said Sunday, "It's not a time for sensationalizing. It's a time for healing; a time for reconciliation."
The ecumenical campus ministry program at Wright State is owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and operates independent of the university.
Lynnette Heard, a spokeswoman for Wright State, said Harsham's leave will not affect the program. She said the ministry closes during the summer, and that the university has been assured by the archdiocese that the post will be staffed by Sept. 17 for the start of the academic year.
St. Luke parishioners had mixed reactions to the announcement. Nanci Zink said she had hoped whatever transpired between Harsham and his accusers was just a misinterpretation. That hope has vanished, she said.
"I think something happened . . . something that shouldn't have happened," Zink said.
Another parishioner, Kay Campanile, said Pilarczyk's statement means the diocese believes Harsham acted inappropriately. She said the leave of absence is an appropriate response.
"I think treatment at this point is the best thing that can be offered,"
Campanile said. However, Campanile, who works at Womanline with victims of sexual abuse, said treatment may be futile as long as Harsham maintains his innocence.
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