Harlem Priest on Administrative Leave Amid Scandal

By Sean Hennessey

August 4, 2008

NEW YORK (CBS) - A highly respected Harlem priest is on administrative leave after two adults stepped forward in recent weeks to say they were sexually abused by him in the late 1980s. The 20-year-old sex abuse allegations stem from when Monsignor Wallace Harris was at Manhattan's Cathedral Prep Seminary, a now defunct all-boys school on the Upper West Side.

"I'm at a loss, just like many of my friends are," says Gerard Fabian Cajas, a former student under Harris. He remembers a strict but well-respected dean of discipline who showed no signs of impropriety.

"Shock is my initial take on this. Disbelief that anyone would accuse Father Harris, or Father Wally, as we would call him, would ever accuse him of such a disgusting and vile act," says Fabian Cajas.

If the allegations are true, it marks a stunning fall from grace for the respected monsignor, who oversaw the papal visit to Yankee Stadium and who gave the benediction at Gov. David Paterson's swearing-in. Paterson is not talking about the issue.

"I think justice has been denied too long," says Joe Burns, who is a part of the survivors' network of those abused by priests.

"At this moment it's two more victims who are getting a bit of justice," adds Burns.

Authorities will not say if the alleged victims were Cathedral Prep students.

In the meantime some, parishioners at the Harlem church that Harris oversees claim he's the victim of lies.

"Why, after so many years, they'd come up with such accusations? We're all at a loss," says Fabian Cajas.

The archdiocese is following its rules by having Harris step aside during the investigation but says, "We recognize that there is a possibility this might not be true."

For his part, Monsignor Harris has denied the accusations but is forced to live away from his church as the archdiocese tries to get to the bottom of what actually happened.

The Manhattan District Attorney says if the claims are true, it cannot charge Harris because the Statute of Limitations has expired. If the church finds merit to the claims, it would punish the monsignor by stripping him of the ability to function as a priest.


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