Notorious former OC priest Michael Harris headed to court on more abuse charges

A sex abuse and cover-up lawsuit against former priest Msgr. Michael Harris, Mater Dei High School and the Diocese of Orange is slated to go to trial in Orange County Superior Court on June 18.

Harris, the former principal of Mater Dei and Santa Margarita High Schools, has been smack in the center of the clergy sex abuse scandal in Orange County, with at least nine accusers settling with the Diocese of Orange in 2005, twelve accusers listed by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and a record $5.2 million settlement with victim Ryan DiMaria.

Frankly put: Harris is a menace. We have seen Harris’ psych reports from the most notorious church-run facility for child molesting clerics (information that Msgr John Urell kept secret), and in 2001, Bishop Tod Brown told the Los Angeles Times:

The Diocese of Orange has grave doubts about [Harris’] innocence in these matters, taking into consideration the number of complaints made against him, the similarity of those complaints and the apparent sincerity of the persons making these statements.

The attorney for the victim, John Manly (another Mater Dei grad), is just coming off of a huge win in Stockton, where a jury unanimously decided that Fr. Michael Kelly sexually abused former Air Force pilot Travis Trotter. The Diocese of Stockton refused to remove Kelly from ministry during the litigation and spent four years trying to discredit Travis. After the verdict, Kelly skipped to Ireland. The case eventually settled for $3.75 million on the eve of the scheduled testimony of Cardinal Roger Mahony.

No one knows Mater Dei, Harris and the Diocese of Orange better than Manly and his team do. There’s going to be a whole lot of Diocese dirty laundry aired. Want a great start off for your research? Start here. Since 2003 Gustavo Arellano at the OC Weekly has covered the story better (and longer) than anyone else.

If you went to Mater Dei or Santa Margarita, sent your kids there, or donated money to the schools, you owe it to yourself to follow the trial. Although Harris is no longer a priest, his ties to the Diocese and Orange County money are strong. He’s only a free man because Mater Dei and Diocese officials didn’t care enough about any of the kids Harris abused to pick up the phone and call the cops. Shame on all of them.


Disclaimers – I was a student at Mater Dei at the tail end of Harris’ tenure there. I had very limited interactions with him. But then again, he had very limited interactions with most girls. John Manly was my attorney in my 2003 case against the Diocese.

14 thoughts on “Notorious former OC priest Michael Harris headed to court on more abuse charges

  1. I knew him and never had a problem with him. I am a woman though so maybe that doesn’t mean much but personally I only heard good things about him. Just putting it out there. Not saying I don’t believe all the men coming forward! Just saying I find it all hard to believe but the news never gives all the evidence or information just tells you it is out there somewhere.

  2. So what happened? Did he actually go to court yet? Was there a trial? It’s been years and I can’t find any information on it.

  3. I attended Immaculate Concepcion Catholic grammar school in Monrovia, Ca., prior to Father Harris’
    tenure there. My only interaction with Fr. Harris was once playing a pickup basketball game with him.
    He took my younger brother under his wing yet my brother said there was nothing ever done or said
    by Fr. Harris that he would describe as inappropriate.

    However, the father of a student at Immaculate Concepcion had told my father that Fr. Harris had
    done unspeakable sexual acts to his son, so unspeakable you wouldn’t believe it. Unfortunately his son has had the AIDS virus for years. His older brother, who was apparently very close to his brother, could not
    get past what happened to his brother & later committed suicide.

  4. I attended mass when Fr. Harris was the celebrant. The church St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa in 1970 something was always packed, standing room only. His style of homily was direct and pulled no punches. His mass was the most popular among high school age. He also recorded the football games of Mater Dei and then played them for the varsity football team afterwards. I got to know some of the graduates of Mater Dei who were there when Fr. Mike was principal. While I knew Fr. Mike and while the alumni I have met knew him, he held the highest respect. After reading some of these posts, an alternative view seemed required.

  5. I went to Mater Dei and met Father Harris several times. He once called me into his office to apologize for refusing my entrance into Mater Dei due to my families problems with him. I had an excellent academic record at the time and now work for the World Bank in DC. It took my parents (who knew higher ups in the church to force him to let me attend the school). I always felt uncomfortable around him, the hugging bit and the way he performed mass seemed more like a production (or play) then a mass.

  6. Perfect timing for the start of this trial…. corresponds to the 40 year anniversary of the Watergate break-ins that occurred on June 17, 1972…In the interests of protecting our children, let’s hope that state, federal. and elected officials take note of the many similarites involving the global cover up of heinous sex crimes committed against children and their families and evil politics that have enabled MULTIPLE

  7. Great article Joelle. Go get him. He could have done the right thing years ago and come clean, spoken out about the cover-up, and attempted to help (rather than hurt) victims. Instead, he wasted his talent honing his skills as a child molester.

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