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Group Blasts Timothy Dolan's Handling of a Harlem Priest Accused of Molestation

By Jeff Mays | September 17, 2010 7:01am | Updated on September 17, 2010 7:29am
Monsignor Wallace Harris was the highest-ranking black priest in the New York Archdiocese.
Monsignor Wallace Harris was the highest-ranking black priest in the New York Archdiocese.
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Saint Charles Borromeo Church

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — A highly respected Monsignor who was accused of molesting 10 men — including a retired NYPD cop — has resigned, the Daily News reported.

Monsignor Wallace Harris was the highest-ranking black priest in the New York Archdiocese. He was responsible for bringing Pope Benedict to Yankee Stadium for a 2008 Mass and also gave the invocation at Gov. David Paterson's swearing-in.

In a letter to parishioners at Saint Charles Borromeo at 141st Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd and Frederick Douglass Blvd, Archbishop Timothy Dolan wrote that Harris "will never again publicly function or present himself as a priest. As you can see from his correspondence, he acknowledges this."

However, in simply letting Harris resign, Dolan could be opening the door to further abuse, David Clohessy, National Director for the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told DNAInfo.com in an interview.

"This is texbook case of the wrong way to deal with abuse," Clohessy said. "Even now, Dolan can't bring himself to be honest enough to even use the phrase: 'credible sex allegations.'"

In an Aug. 28 letter to his parishioners, Harris spoke of the "great sorrow" of the last few years and apologized for all of the "pain and suffering."

Harris cites health issues, including "prostate cancer, controlling; diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, and vestibular imbalance" as the cause for retirement.

"I will no longer serve you at the altar, in the pulpit, in the classroom or in any public ministry. I wish to retire to a private life as a priest. I assure you of my constant prayers," Harris wrote.

Clohessy said he's worried that Harris may show up in other dioceses and still have access to children because his resignation letter does not mention abuse allegations. Dolan should have investigated at every parish where Harris had worked.

"Dolan is making it very easy for Harris to have continued access to kids," said Clohessy. "Dolan has essentially tolerated an intimidating climate that discourages victims from coming forward."

The 63-year-old Harris has been pastor at Saint Charles Borromeo since 1989. He was suspended two years ago when former police officer Eric Crumbley came forward with his allegations. Several other men have come forward but the statute of limitations has expired.

It is still possible that Harris will be defrocked by the Vatican, but Clohessy said even that may not be enough.

"The process of defrocking is long and cumbersome process that may also never be made public," he said.