A Capuchin priest, a native of Milwaukee, who was ordained in Wisconsin in 1964 has been removed from public ministry by the Capuchins after the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph learned he had abused minors in Milwaukee and New York.
According to a Jan. 5 statement from the order, Capuchin Fr. Robert Harrison was removed as teacher and basketball coach at Cardinal Hayes High School, The Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 22, 2014, immediately after the province learned of abuse that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
The abuse came to light during an inquiry into Fr. Harrison’s personal finances, according to a Jan. 5 letter sent to parents at Cardinal Hayes High School, a Catholic high school for boys, by school president Fr. Joseph P. Tierney and posted on the school’s website: www.cardinalhayes.org.
“I write to share some upsetting news,” wrote Fr. Tierney, explaining that Fr. Harrison admitted committing several acts of sexual abuse of minors during an inquiry into his personal finances.
“…. based upon the information that we have received from Fr. Harrison thus far, it does not appear that any of the abuse involved students from Cardinal Hayes. Neither Cardinal Hayes nor the Archdiocese of New York has ever received an allegation of improper behavior concerning Fr. Harrison,” he wrote in the Jan. 5 statement.
According to the statement, per Capuchin Province of St Joseph policy, the abuse was reported to the district attorney offices in Manhattan, N.Y., The Bronx, N.Y. and Milwaukee.
Fr. Harrison attended the now-closed St. Benedict School, Milwaukee, through ninth grade, attended high school and college at St. Lawrence Seminary, Mt. Calvary, and completed his theological studies at the now-closed St. Anthony Seminary, Marathon.
He was ordained a priest on May 16, 1964, at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Marathon in the Superior Diocese.
According to Capuchin records, from June 1964 to August 1965, he provided summer help and was involved in a pastoral course at St. Francis Friary or Parish, Milwaukee; was assistant priest at St. Benedict the Moor Parish, Milwaukee, from August 1965 to 1967 and from October 1967 to May 1974 was a counselor at the Carmelite Home for Boys, Milwaukee.
Fr. Harrison began working at Cardinal Hayes High School in 1989, teaching religion and black history. At Cardinal Hayes, he also served as assistant principal and was the coach of the junior varsity basketball team.
In the statement, the Capuchins said that upon receiving information about the abuse, in additional to immediately removing Fr. Harrison from his duties at Cardinal Hayes High School, “he is barred from public ministry as required under the terms of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
It noted that Fr. Harrison is currently at a professional facility where he cannot have contact with minors.
Further explaining the sequence of events involving Fr. Harrison, Colleen Crane, public relations director for the Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, in an email to the Catholic Herald said the order discovered on Dec. 22 that Fr. Harrison was borrowing money from staff members. “When asked why, he said he was paying it to a victim,” she wrote.
The order removed him from his duties and public ministry immediately, but waited until they returned from Christmas break to let them know.
“The children at Cardinal Hayes High School (Bronx) were already on Christmas vacation when this was discovered,” wrote Crane. “The leadership of the school wanted to personally inform the children upon their return (Monday), the first day back to class. The leadership did not want the students reading this in the newspaper. The staff and faculty were notified before the student assembly was gathered. Parents were also notified.”
In the Jan. 5 statement, the Capuchins apologized for the hurt brought by a Capuchin friar and offered assistance through the province and its pastoral care and conciliation department.
“The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin. We know that there have been times when children and youth entrusted to our care have been harmed; for that we are deeply sorry,” read the statement. “While we cannot undo the harm that was done in the past, we are committed to doing what we can to prevent any future harm and to assisting those who have been hurt by a Capuchin friar.”
Since the story broke Jan. 5, Amy Peterson, director of the province’s pastoral care and conciliation office, said victims of Fr. Harrison have come forward.
Individuals who have concerns or are in need of assistance should contact Peterson, (414) 374-8841, Ext. 22.