Illinois priest removed for homosexual porn, misappropriating $29,000

Rev. Barry J. Harmon, 55, who has been removed from ministry and will apply for laicization, had been accused of using a male prostitute in the 1990s.

September 8, 2018 Joseph M. Hanneman Print

Fr. Barry J. Harmon, who had served at Mother of Dolors Catholic Church in Vandalia and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ramsey, Ill., has been removed from ministry by Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois.

An Illinois priest accused of patronizing a male prostitute in the 1990s and misappropriating $40,000 from a parish in 2005 has now been removed from ministry for “immoral activity” that could involve child pornography, and allegedly misspending up to $29,000 at two parishes he oversaw in the Diocese of Springfield.

The Rev. Barry J. Harmon, 55, was removed from ministry and will apply for laicization, Springfield Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki wrote in a Sept. 5 email to diocesan priests. Harmon has agreed to make restitution for the misappropriated funds, Paprocki said. Harmon was initially placed on medical leave Oct. 30, 2017 from his role as pastor of Mother of Dolors Catholic Church in Vandalia and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Ramsey, Ill.

During the medical leave, the diocese discovered financial irregularities at the parishes, and “immoral activity inconsistent with the life of a priest,” Paprocki wrote. He did not offer details. “We have found nothing to indicate that there was inappropriate activity with minors,” Paprocki wrote. Diocesan spokeswoman Marlene Mulford would not elaborate on the “immoral activity,” but she said the diocese “is sure this does not involve minors.”

However, Fayette County State’s Attorney Joshua Morrison on Saturday said he understood the police investigation involved “potential child pornography and the priest.” Morrison said he was unaware of a financial aspect to the case. He asked those with knowledge of the funds misappropriation to contact his office for investigation.

An informant who contacted the activist group Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. said the situation involves much more than appears on the surface. A search conducted by the diocese at the rectory in Vandalia uncovered “at least one trunk of homosexual pornography” as well as drug paraphernalia, the informant said. A compact disc of homosexual pornography was found hidden in Harmon’s desk, the source said. Father Harmon has been in a decade-long homosexual relationship with an ex-convict, the informant alleged. A video being sought by diocesan investigators is believed to show a party at which “several” priests were dressed in drag, the informant said. The party was allegedly attended by Harmon and at least five other priests.

Bishop Paprocki met with parishioners in Vandalia and Ramsey in early February 2018, but no public announcement was made of Harmon’s alleged misdeeds or of police involvement in the case. A statement was to be read at all Masses Sept. 8 and 9 at the two parishes to announce that police have been called, and Harmon will undergo laicization, or removal from the clerical state, Mulford said. Attempts to reach Harmon for comment were unsuccessful.

“We recently discovered that Father Barry was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) on July 31, 2018,” Paprocki wrote. “In light of all this, it is clear that Father Barry is not suited for ministry of any kind in the priesthood and he said that he would voluntarily apply for laicization.”

One longtime critic of sexual corruption in the diocese said the case is evidence not much has changed since the 1990s.

“If this case involves child pornography, this destroys the credibility of the last two bishops in Springfield,” said RCF President Stephen G. Brady, whose group has conducted investigations in the diocese since 1996. “It was known about Father Barry Harmon years ago when RCF first reported it and no credible action was taken. This proves the fact that nothing is being done and everything is being covered up.” Brady announced Sept. 7 that he is bringing RCF out of retirement to conduct new investigations around the country. The group previously operated from 1996 to 2009.

Harmon has had a troubled past since being ordained in May 1990.

In 1999, a male prostitute named Frank R. Bergen — who claimed he was frequently hired for sex by then-Bishop Daniel L. Ryan — told RCF investigators that Harmon paid him for sex on one occasion in the early 1990s. “I also dated Fr. Barry Harmon one time at his residence while he was a parish priest at St. Aloysius Church,” Bergen wrote in a May 1999 statement. Bergen made the same claim in a January 1998 interview with the local paper, The State Journal-Register. Bergen said he told Bishop Ryan that he had “dated” Father Harmon, and told Harmon that he was sexually involved with the bishop.

According to a transcript of the unpublished State Journal-Register interview, Father Harmon denied having sex with Bergen. He said Bergen made repeated demands for money and threatened to go public with a story about prostitution only after Harmon cut off the cash handouts he had given Bergen to help with his homelessness. Harmon was parochial vicar at St. Aloysius Catholic Church from 1991-94, according to the diocesan directory.

Bergen, then a cocaine addict, insisted Harmon paid him for sex, but admitted he also hustled the priest for cash to support his drug habit. “I solicited him for money, but on the pretenses that I had something to hold against you,” Bergen said. Bergen has a long criminal record in Illinois stretching back to the 1980s, including retail theft, burglary, robbery, aggravated battery and attempted criminal transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Mulford said the prostitution allegation was examined by a special review board appointed by then-Bishop George Lucas. “Father Harmon was allowed to remain in ministry,” Mulford said. Since then, Harmon was given pastoral assignments in Ste. Marie, Tuscola, Arcola, Vandalia and Ramsey, all in the Diocese of Springfield. He also served as chaplain of the Vandalia Correctional Center and was associate director and later director of the diocese’s Office for the Diaconate.

In 2005, Harmon was accused of misappropriating $40,000 from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Newton, Ill. In that case, Harmon agreed to repay the $40,000, plus the $8,000 cost of a financial audit, according to local news reports at the time. Harmon was pastor of St. Thomas from 2002-2006. A diocesan spokeswoman in 2005 described the financial irregularities this way: “Everything was in the books and accounted for, but it was more a matter of bad judgment and mismanagement rather than any kind of criminal activity.”

The Harmon case is the latest in a long string of black eyes for the Diocese of Springfield over the past three decades. Roman Catholic Faithful conducted a long investigation of what it alleged was a pattern of homosexual activity by Bishop Ryan, including sexually harassing diocesan priests, patronizing Bergen and a group of 10 or more male prostitutes, and exposing himself and masturbating in public at Springfield’s Douglas Park. Ryan denied RCF’s allegations. He died in 2015.

Ryan resigned in October 1999, just before a lawsuit was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court accusing him of covering up the abuse of a former altar boy by the late Father Alvin J. Campbell. The lawsuit, which was later settled out of court, alleged Ryan’s longstanding pattern of homosexual behavior created an atmosphere of tolerance for sexual abuse of minors in the diocese.

Although Bergen was under 18 when his alleged sexual relationship with Ryan began, the diocese did not refer the case to the Sangamon County state’s attorney for investigation. Ryan suspended his public ministry after a man named Frank Sigretto alleged the bishop had sex with him at the cathedral rectory in 1984, when he was 15. In 2002, Sigretto’s allegation was added to the 1999 McCormick lawsuit filed against Ryan and the Diocese of Springfield.

https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/09/08/illinois-priest-removed-for-homosexual-porn-misappropriating-29000/