Men [of God] at work in Maine.

14 Mar 2001


LEWISTON - The Diocese of Portland is investigating a local pastor who it created a sexually explicit website that served as a photo gallery and email directory for gay priests. Several other local priests were also involved, a diocesan spokesman said.

Fr. John Harris, 45, was ordered by Bp. Joseph Gerry to shut down the site after its existence was exposed by a conservative Catholic watchdog group, said Marc Mutty, spokesman for the diocese. Harris has since been sent to an out-of-state program to reflect and decide whether he will continue in the priesthood.

"The bishop is shocked and obviously very upset about this," Mutty said. Portions of Harris' website and another related site visited by the priests were "highly offensive and in some cases obscene," Mutty said.

Harris created the website, called "St. Sebastian's Angels", last summer, Mutty said. His site was the outgrowth of another website where about 55 gay priests and other Catholic clergy from around the world posted email messages and photos, he said.

The pages of the site pictured photos of more than a dozen priests and their email addresses. The site also included a video loop of masturbation. The logo on the home page featured a color rendering of a bound St. Sebastian, a martyred Roman archer shot with arrows after a Roman emperor learned he was a Christian.

When quizzed about the pornographic portion of the site, Harris had told Gerry "it was intended to humor and shock," but he later removed it realizing it was "over the edge," according to Mutty. Harris also had claimed authorship of an expletive-filled email message sent to the watchdog group, Mutty said. An anonymous priest at Roman Catholic Faithful, a nonprofit organization based in Springfield, Ill., had emailed Harris, calling the content on the site "a scandal." Steven Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, said his group was trying to protect the parishioners served by the priests.

"Our concern is the innocents, the little boys these guys might be hearing in confession," he said. "It really scares me what effect these guys will have on the so-called faithful." The group had sent letters to diocesan bishops who supervised the priests involved in the email website, urging them to take action.

Mutty said Harris admitted his role to Gerry only after the Illi. group had threatened to expose him.

A second priest, retired Fr. Antonin Caron, 57, had a website similar to that of Harris, which Gerry also ordered shut down, Mutty said. In addition, Caron was pictured on Harris' site along with his email address. Like Harris, Caron emailed other priests at a related site.

Mutty said the diocese will not reveal the name of a third priest who was less involved in the matter.

Like Harris, Caron participated in email exchanges with other priests at the related email site called the Onelist, Mutty said. When "things went awry" and priests began posting nude photos and crude messages critical of the pope, Caron tried to put a stop to it by expressing his objections, he said.

Although he is not attached to a particular parish, Caron remains a priest and his behavior is subject to discipline by the diocese, Mutty said. He has been told not to do any more public ministry.

Mutty confirmed that Caron had been found innocent in 1994 on charges of sexually molesting a 15-year-old girl. At the trial, a psychologist said it would have been out of character for the priest to molest the girl because Caron was a homosexual and a passive man by nature. Mutty said he did not think Caron's retirement was connected to the trial. He said the priest retired several years ago for reasons of "emotional health."

Neither Harris nor Caron could be reached for comment. All 3 of the priests linked to the websites cooperated with the diocese's investigation, Mutty said. None has continued contact with the sites, he added.

Sun Journal, 3/17/00, 3/16


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