Priest Caught in Scandal to Be Replaced
But Parishioners Want the Rev. John Harris Returned Despite Web Site Controversy

Associated Press, carried in Portland Press Herald (Maine)
April 21, 2000

The parishioners of a Roman Catholic priest sent away after he created a Web site with sexually explicit images want him back, but the diocese has chosen a replacement and appears unmoved by their pleas.

The Rev. John Harris, 45, from Our Lady of the Rosary, was sent away for an evaluation last month after a conservative Catholic group said it had found the Web site.

The site contained photographs of priests who belonged to an Internet discussion group for gay clergy members. Other images showed naked men and close-ups of male genitals.

The Diocese of Portland sent Harris away for an evaluation and parishioners later heard from a nun that Bishop Joseph Gerry had decided not to return him to the parish.

The Rev. Angelo Levasseur of St. Luce Church in Upper Frenchville has been offered the position at Our Lady of the Rosary, said diocese spokesman Marc Mutty.

Harris remains a priest, but is currently without an assignment, Mutty said.

Meanwhile, parishioners have been sending letters and calling the diocese to ask for Harris' return. They also want to meet with the bishop.

Stan Chapman, the newly elected spokesman for the parish council, said he read a copy of Harris' evaluation, which he said states that Harris "wants to remain a priest for the right reasons."

Chapman said parishioners want the bishop to stop trying to replace Harris at least until he meets with them.

"It appears the diocese intends to make decisions without the involved parish," Chapman said. "It certainly makes you realize the strength of the diocese."

Mutty said the diocese plans to respond to parishioners and the council, but that the bishop normally would not meet directly with them.

"We can't be held under siege like this or held hostage when people second-guess every decision that is made," Mutty said. "This is the established Catholic vehicle for making assignments, and I don't see that changing much in the near future. Public outcry is not going to influence that."

Harris told the bishop about the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site after an anonymous priest with the Roman Catholic Faithful group sent Harris a message calling the site a scandal. The site was shut down, but Roman Catholic Faithful posted some of the contents on its own site.

Mutty has said that Harris intended some material on the site to be shocking and humorous, but removed it after realizing it was inappropriate. Mutty said Harris admitted sending an expletive-filled e-mail message to the Springfield, Ill. watchdog group.

Mutty said the bishop did not object to homosexual priests talking about struggles with their sexual orientation and vows of celibacy, but that the church cannot excuse "sexually provocative communications."


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