Letter Puts '77 Transfer of Harsham under Cloud

By Daniel J. Lehmann and Michael Briggs
Chicago Sun-Times
November 15, 1993

BEAVERCREEK, Ohio — The priest accused along with Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of molesting a minor 17 years ago would not comment Sunday on reports he lost his seminary teaching job because of sexual misconduct with an adult student.

The Rev. Ellis Harsham, 51, said he could not discuss why he was transferred in 1977 from St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati.

But he again strongly denied a lawsuit's claim that he sexually abused Steven J. Cook, now 34, when he was a high school student visiting the seminary.

"I categorically deny the charges" by Cook, said Harsham after he said mass at St. Luke the Evangelist parish near Dayton. He said Cook was a friend at the seminary but declined further comment on advice from his attorney.

Sketchy reports of why Harsham left the seminary have appeared since the lawsuit was filed last Friday. On Sunday, Cable News Network reported it had obtained a letter written by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that detailed the charge.

CNN showed a copy of the letter dated last month and highlighted an excerpt that read: "Father Harsham admits (and this is confirmed by others) that he was removed from the seminary faculty at the end of the 1976-77 academic year because of an incident of sexual behavior with an adult seminarian."

The letter was written by the Rev. R. Daniel Conlon, the chancellor of the Cincinnati archdiocese, who investigates allegations of sexual misconduct. Its purpose was to inform Cook and his lawyer that there was not enough evidence to substantiate their allegations of sexual abuse against Harsham.

The "adult seminarian" is not Cook, who was a high school student at the time, lawyers said.

Cook has said he was abused by Harsham and Bernardin between 1975 and 1977. Bernardin, who was archbishop of Cincinnati at the time, was asked at his Friday news conference if he had any knowledge of sexual abuse charges against priests at St. Gregory's during his tenure.

Bernardin replied: "No, I was not aware of the things that have been alleged."

On Sunday, Bernardin said in an interview in Washington, D.C., that he was aware of the Conlon letter but he did not yet know the specifics. "I need to find out a little more about the letter," he said.

Conlon refused to say if a letter had been written. Harsham said Sunday, "I know nothing about that."

Church officials in Cincinnati have said they received Cook's allegations against Harsham last July, investigated, and found them unsubstantiated.

Cook said it was in October when therapy and hypnosis helped him remember the alleged abuse by Bernardin 17 years earlier.

He has said he started to recall sexual incidents with Harsham beginning in 1992.


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