Man, Church Settle Cincinnati Sex Suit

By Philip Franchine
Chicago Sun-Times
April 19, 1994

A man who made and then dropped sexual abuse charges against Joseph Cardinal Bernardin reached an out-of-court settlement with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati and a priest, both sides said Monday.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said the amount he agreed to pay was far less than the cost of fighting the lawsuit filed by Steven J. Cook, 34, of Philadephia.

Cook initiated settlement talks because he is dying of AIDS and wanted to avoid a lengthy court case, said Andrew Lipton, Cook's attorney. "He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life, which may be short, dealing with the stress of litigation -- something that can drag on and on," Lipton said.

Under the settlement, neither the archdiocese nor the Rev. Ellis N. Harsham admitted wrongdoing.

In November, Cook filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati failed to protect him from abuse by priests between 1975 and 1977. He also alleged that Harsham, then an instructor at St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, repeatedly gave him alcohol, marijuana and pornography in exchange for sex.

Cook also alleged that Harsham once arranged a liaison with Bernardin, then archbishop of Cincinnati, but he dropped that accusation on Feb. 28.

Cook claimed that he repressed a memory of abuse for years before recalling it under hypnosis.

"A settlement fits very well into his recovery process. Steven has AIDS, and this litigation process has taken an enormous toll on him," said Stephen C. Rubino, another of Cook's lawyers. "He gets a financial settlement and his personal life back and an ability to continue living as long as he possibly can live."

Harsham, 52, who is employed by the archdiocese as director of campus ministry at Wright State University in Dayton, said, "My reaction was summarized by Archbishop Pilarczyk's statement."

Pilarczyk said: "It is important to note that . . . Mr. Cook retracted several allegations against Father Harsham. Mr. Cook's remaining allegations against Father Harsham are still unproven."

"Nevertheless," Pilarczyk said, "other allegations of improper behavior by Father Harsham. . . . have been lodged. The archdiocese is reviewing these allegations in accordance with the archdiocesan decree on child abuse. "

Barbara Blaine, a leader of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests said: "It is sad that after all this Father Harsham is still in the ministry and around young people he still could hurt."

Archdiocesan spokesman Ray George declined to say why Harsham remains on campus while under investigation.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.