Harlem Residents in Shock over Church Sex Scandal

By Marcia Kramer

August 4, 2008

Monsignor Wallace Harris Steps Down, Denies Charges

NEW YORK (CBS) - A Harlem priest who just months ago was bestowed the highest honors of working with Pope Benedict and Gov. Paterson has fallen from grace.

Allegations of sexual abuse against Monsignor Wallace Harris have just surfaced that have left him without a congregation and are threatening his future in the church and the faith his followers once had in him.

Parishioners got the startling news at mass Sunday morning. They say they were stunned and in total disbelief.

"I was very hurt and I was very shocked because I do not believe it to be true," said parishioner Charrlette Williams. "I've know Monsignor Harris for many a year. He's been round my kids my kids been round him."

Chontrell Wrenick told CBS 2 HD he was devastated with the news. "I was in total shock. I cried," she said.

Monsignor Harris had been suddenly removed as Pastor of Saint Charles Borromeo Parish in Harlem effective immediately on charges he sexually abused two minors twenty years ago

The news was even more stunning because Monsignor Harris was so well regarded in the church he was the event coordinator for Pope Benedict XVI's huge outdoor mass at Yankee Stadium last April, and participated in Gov. Paterson's swearing in.

A spokesman for the New York Archdiocese said the church initially turned over one allegation of sexual abuse to the Manhattan District Attorney. The D.A. uncovered a second case.

Monsignor Harris has therefore been directed to step aside from his position as pastor," a spokesman for the Archdiocese said. He is "not permitted to function as a priest until such time as the Archdiocesan Advisory Review Board has studied the matter."

State Senator Bill Perkins attended a meeting with Harris just last week on cancer initiatives for the community.

"I hope that it turns out that these allegations are not true," Perkins told CBS 2 HD. "Obviously someone of his rank and his stature when such accusations are made has to be taken seriously but I think in this community he's been well loved."

"Something like that is just shocking. I hope it's not true," echoed Ronda Clarke.

Not everyone agrees though.

"That's messed up and I think he should go to jail," said Jasmine Joseph.

The governor's office said they would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Monsignor Harris has denied the charges.


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