Harsham to Stay at Wsu Pending Allegation Checks

By David E. Kepple
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
April 19, 1994

The Rev. Ellis N. Harsham will remain a campus minister at Wright State University while church officials continue to review allegations of sexual abuse against the 52-year-old priest.

At a Monday news conference, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk confirmed the archdiocese reached an out-of-court settlement with a former Cincinnati man who claimed Harsham sexually abused him when he was a teen-ager. The diocese has said the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing.

"The lives and the hearts of many people have been affected by this lawsuit," Pilarczyk said. "Father Harsham, in particular, has suffered much, as has his family and those to whom he ministers."

The amount of settlement was confidential.

Harsham's attorney, Thomas W. Miller of Cincinnati, issued a brief statement that characterized the settlement as a "business decision" by the archdiocese, with the settlement terms being "far less than the cost of bringing this matter to trial."

"Father Harsham feels confident that he would have been vindicated," by a trial, Miller said.

The statement made no reference to the ongoing review of other allegations, but did say, "Father Harsham looks forward to the opportunity to get on with his pastoral duties and continue with his life's work."

The settlement ends the whirlwind of legal action that began in November, when Steven J. Cook filed a $ 10 million lawsuit, saying he was sexually abused by Harsham, who now lives in Beavercreek, and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. Cook, now 34 and living in Philadelphia, dropped the accusations against Bernardin in February.

Cook's lawsuit brought worldwide publicity and prompted other accusations of improprieties during Harsham's tenure at three area schools - Carroll High School in Riverside, Badin High School in Hamilton and St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati, where Cook was a student in the 1970s. Cincinnati attorney Andrew S. Lipton, one of Cook's lawyers, said Monday that he knows of "six to 12 individuals" who came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

Lipton said the identity of a number of these individuals was disclosed to the archdiocese in the course of pre-trial preparation.

Pilarczyk acknowledged that allegations of improper behavior by Harsham have been lodged with the archdiocese.

"The archdiocese is reviewing these allegations in accordance with the archdiocesan Decree on Child Abuse," the archbishop said.

The archbishop said Cook "retracted several allegations" against Harsham during the course of the lawsuit and that Cook's "remaining allegations" against Harsham are still unproven. Harsham's attorney made a similar comment.

Lipton, however, said he is unaware of any retractions by Cook.

"When the dismissal of the claims against Bernardin were put on the record, we agreed to amend the complaint - to delete all reference to Bernardin," Lipton said. "In doing that, we therefore deleted the allegation that Harsham took Cook to see Bernardin (at Bernardin's living quarters, where Cook originally claimed he had sex with Bernardin).

"I would not characterize that as a retraction and I cannot think of anything else that they would be referring to."

Pilarczyk said he is glad the lawsuit has been settled and said he will continue to pray for Cook, who has an advanced case of AIDS.

"The archdiocese will continue to treat all allegations of child abuse with concern for the needs of the alleged victim and respect for the rights of the accused," Pilarczyk added.

But Barbara Blaine, founding president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized Pilarczyk for leaving Harsham at Wright State.

"Our question is: Why is he still in ministry while the investigation is going on?" said Blaine, a Toledo native who now lives in Chicago. "Victims want to make sure that the perpetrator is not in a place where he can abuse anyone else, and that's one of the things that I think is really sad about this case. Harsham is still in ministry and he's around young people."

Wright State spokeswoman Lynnette Heard said Harsham is an employee of the archdiocese - not the university - so his employment status is at the discretion of church officials.

She has said, too, that the university has not received complaints about Harsham.


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