Diocese: Harris Inquiry Hasn't Been Completed
Lawsuit: the Priest Refused to Seek Counseling for Stress, Officials Say, and Was Put on Inactive Leave

By Carol McGraw
Orange County Register (California)
October 18, 1994

Officials at the Catholic Diocese of Orange said Monday that they have not been served with a lawsuit concerning molestation allegations against Monsignor Michael Harris and would not comment on the suit.

However, spokesman Monsignour Lawrence Baird said that the "allegations of a family against Harris were brought forward and received by the bishop. "

"The Diocese investigated the allegations, and that investigation is still ongoing as needed," Baird said. Because of confidentiality requirements, he refused to elaborate.

Harris is on "inactive leave," meaning he is still a priest but cannot carry out priestly duties, Baird said.

Harris had planned to leave his post at the end of this school year, in June, and wait for another assignment because of "stress related to administrative duties at the high school," Baird said.

Harris had been principal of Santa Margarita High School. He resigned earlier this year.

Harris had been suffering stress for a number of years, but allegations of sexual misconduct that surfaced in December 1993 exacerbated his condition and so he took leave in January, Baird said.

At that time, Orange Bishop Norman F. McFarland requested that Harris undergo spiritual and medical counseling. He refused and was put on inactive leave.

"The priests take vows of obedience to the bishop who ordains him, and to his successors. If a priest isn't obedient, under church canons, he can be placed on administrative leave, or he can resign," Baird said.

Baird noted that the Catholic Church has precise procedures that must be followed when allegations of sexual misconduct are made.

They include assembling a team of clergy and lay people such as attorneys and psychologists to evaluate the evidence and make a recommendation regarding its findings to the bishop.


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