Diocese Reveals Charges of Abuse
Officials Say Monsignor Michael Harris Has Been Accused of 'Sexual Improprieties' by the Family of a Deceased Person

By Jeff Rowe
Orange County Register
March 5, 1994

The strange case of Monsignor Michael Harris took another odd turn Friday when the Diocese of Orange said the priest had been accused of "sexual improprieties" by the family of a deceased person.

In a prepared statement, the diocese said Harris, founding principal at Santa Margarita High School, was accused in December of the improprieties, which did not include physical contact.

According to the diocese, relatives said a member of their family had told his mother years ago of the improprieties, which took place "some years prior to that. " Harris has denied any sexual misconduct, the diocese said, adding that its investigation failed to find anyone else with allegations.

But Harris has been devastated by the charges, said Monsignor Lawrence J. Baird, a diocese spokesman, who said Harris is getting "spiritual and medical assistance" at an undisclosed site.

Harris stunned the parents and 1,600 students at the school in January when he abruptly resigned, claiming stress. At the time, Harris, 48, said he might return to the school.

On Friday the diocese cited "persistent inquiries" by the news media and others in its decision to issue a statement.

Reports of sexual misconduct by priests have increased in recent years, opening a topic once never discussed.

"(Catholic) priests have been held up in such a way that questioning them was like questioning God," said Mary Staggs of Orange, regional coordinator for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP says it has 250 members in California.

Citing the need to protect the accusing family's privacy, the diocese declined to release further details about the family in the Harris case. Baird said the decision to issue a statement was a difficult one but that ultimately the diocese was guided by the Catholic Church's wish to deal "as openly as possible" with allegations of abuse by its priests.

Baird, who said he has known Harris for 33 years, described his friend as "an icon to the priesthood, profoundly spiritual and very talented. " Did he have any doubts about his friend and fellow priest?

"None whatsoever," said Baird, expressing confidence Harris would return to his priestly duties.


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