|Harlem Pastor Reaches out to Victims of Sexual Abuse
By Jasmin K. Williams
October 28, 2010
Pastor Eric Crumbley of the Salvation Army Harlem Temple Corps knows all too well what the alleged victims of Atlanta Bishop Eddie Long are going through. Crumbley says that he himself was the victim of the same type of abuse by Monsignor Wallace Harris, a popular Harlem priest. Harris, pastor of the Church of St. Charles Borromeo since 1989, submitted a letter of resignation to the Catholic Archdiocese on August 28 of this year.
Crumbley broke nearly three decades of silence and came forward publicly with his story in 2008. He now uses his experience to help other victims of sexual abuse.
It's particularly difficult for male victims. Priests are trusted authority figures to whom these young victims are completely vulnerable. These abuses may go unreported for years. Some victims never tell what happened to them, as there is an element of shame.
Crumbley spoke with the Amsterdam News and presented specific details of his ordeal, which, before now, he has never revealed publicly.
Born in 1966, Crumbley attended St. Joseph's of the Holy Family in Harlem, where Harris was the pastor and a trusted mentor to many of the young boys there.
"It started when I was 14 years old. Monsignor Wallace Harris then was Father Harris. He was assigned to St. Joseph's of the Holy Family on West 125th Street in the 1970s.
He brought a lot of programs to the parish, and my mom and the other parents trusted him. It was commonplace for us to be around this Black priest. He was the up-and-coming Black hope. I got to be very close to him. He became my godfather and had baptized me when I was 12. I became a member of his inner circle, one of the 'Harris Boys.' I wanted to be a priest. I was in church all the time," Crumbley said.
"I did tasks. I used to feed the dogs, Babe and Bullet. I would be there on Saturdays. I wanted to be around the crew. That's how I got close to him. I was around him all the time.
"We started hanging out in the rectory and it was a big thing to stay over. There could be one or six or eight of us depending on how he felt. That's when it all started. He would say things like, 'You can sleep in that room or you can stay in here with me.' He was a father, a brother," Crumbley said.
"I'll never forget the first time it happened when he fondled me. I froze up. I got scared, pushed his hand away and jumped out of the bed and stayed on the couch until the morning. I got dressed right away and went downstairs. He acted like nothing happened and I remember being afraid to tell my mom or anybody. I was confused and didn't know why it happened. You start to question yourself. I was very naive. I let it go," Crumbley told the Amsterdam News.
"I was one of the youngest ones, at 14, to do some of the things I did, like go away. He would wait until high school to take you on a getaway. I was still in the eighth grade the first time I went. We went away to Palenville, N.Y., and Big Bass Lake in the Poconos.
"We would have basketball practice and he would always have us do things that weren't basketball related. If you missed a shot, you had to take off a piece of your clothing. He had a thing called 'The Windmill.' When your team lost, you'd go naked and the boys would hit you on the butt. What was the purpose of this? The behavior went on all through high school. When we were playing basketball, he would grab you from behind and push up against you. He did the same to the other guys. There were a lot of incidents like that. He always had us naked in gym," Crumbley said.
"I went on to Cathedral College. I was taking religious studies very seriously. I was still considering it because you couldn't get married, but I saw things that I didn't like. I met a young man and we became friends. We stopped at each other's rooms after playing basketball and before we went down for dinner. We lived in sections called alleys. I went upstairs and said, 'I'll be right back after a quick shower.' After my shower, I came back down the hall and stopped in his room and saw him with another guy. I looked at him, they both looked at me and I said, 'I'll meet you downstairs.' And that was the day that I said, 'I can't do this anymore. I don't want to be a priest.'
"I had seen so much. I left school. I never told anybody why. Harris tried to get me to come back. He always had a way of comforting you. He talked me into going to the Norman residence. It was a regular college setting. I only stayed for one day. I packed up my stuff and didn't say a word. I went home to 130th and St. Nicholas Avenue.
Crumbley's next move was to the NYPD.
"I decided to take the police test on a whim. I became a cop in 1987. I stayed for 15 years. I got into some trouble dealing in real estate. I rented out a location. They said that I knew the people living there were having parties and selling alcohol. It was hard to prove that I didn't know. They threatened to fire me so I retired. I had a great police career and loved the police department. I took my retirement and I left in 2002," he said.
In 2003, Crumbley left the Catholic faith and switched to a non-denominational faith.
"I thought that the only way to be a priest was to be a Catholic priest. I found out what reality was," he said.
Despite all that had happened, Crumbley remained in contact with Harris, a man he had looked up to his entire life.
"We stayed close. When my son was born, [Harris] baptized him and became his godfather. It really hit me hard when he baptized my son. I never took my son to see him again. It took me 22 years to really admit that this was serious. I began to separate from him.
"No one knew what had happened. I told my one sister and the girlfriend that I was dating at the time. I decided to go public in 2008 when I saw on the news that two other young men had come forward. As soon as I saw them, I knew that they were telling the truth. I am the only one who has put his face out there. It was a great relief. I got so many e-mails and texts thanking me," Crumbley said.
"The statute of limitations had passed and I could not sue him. I came out to have peace for myself and to help others. The church continues to view this as an allegation, but it's out now and people like myself need to continue to come forward," he said.
"The minute I told this story I became the thief and the criminal and the abuser. I was none of these things before. People believed Harris. They walked up to me and said, 'How dare you? I hate you.' These were some of the same people that I fed on Thanksgiving," Crumbley said.
Crumbley has reached out to Jamal Parris, one of Bishop Long's alleged victims.
"I want him to know that I stand behind him and support him. I've listened to some of the others and you can see a pattern. They have similar stories and similar catch-words. Eddie Long never said, 'I didn't do it.' All he said was, 'I'm not the man they portray me to be on television.' That's the game that they play with words.
"If I were accused of abusing four young men and I didn't do it, no one could keep me quiet from defending my reputation. Sometimes, people in the church can't see beyond what they want to see. They are worshipping that man and not God. It's the same with Monsignor Harris," Crumbley said.
Harris' resignation letter stated: "These recent years have brought a great sorrow on you, me and so many others. I am truly sorry for all this pain and suffering." The letter cites his reasons for leaving the church as "battling prostate cancer, controlling diabetes, hypertension arthritis and vestibular imbalance."
"The way he wrote his resignation letter never said that he was guilty. It says, 'I'm sick.' They use the same thing over and over. He has still not apologized to us and I don't know if he ever will, but I'm not going to let this go," Crumbley said.
Crumbley is now on a mission to help other male victims of sexual abuse and has started www.ourwordoftruth.org. The website contains resource information on how to get help and counseling and how to contact Crumbley directly for further assistance.
The AmNews was unable to contact Harris by press time.
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