Matt C. Abbott
Ex-priest Ellis Harsham 'returns'
By Matt C. Abbott
April 19, 2011

Former Catholic priest-turned-Protestant (or so it seems) Ellis Harsham, who was accused of sexual abuse in the 1990s and subsequently left the priesthood, is back in the news. According to a story on, "there are rumors he will be preaching at Living Beatitudes Church in Oakwood [Ohio]."

What the WDTN story doesn't mention is that Harsham was accused of abuse by Steven Cook, who also accused Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of abuse. Harsham was thrown under the bus, so to speak (according to this report, Harsham did admit to having a sexual relationship with an adult seminarian as well as a "close friendship" with Cook — "and had engaged in 'much casual sexual banter' with him" — but denied having sexual contact with Cook) while Cook mysteriously announced that he couldn't trust his memory about Bernardin. Bernardin was subsequently dropped from Cook's lawsuit and, to this day, not a few people believe that he was completely exonerated.

Below is an excerpt from Paul Likoudis' book AmChurch Comes Out regarding the Bernardin saga. (Likoudis is news editor of The Wanderer, a Catholic newspaper.)

Bernardin's legacy to the American Church will be discussed and debated, quite possibly, for centuries. No one disputes his influence: as creator of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and United States Catholic Conference; as a bishop-maker who, working with former Archbishop Jean Jadot, gave the American hierarchy its pronounced pro-gay orientation; as a subtle provocateur who nudged, consoled and empowered dissenters while professing his loyalty to his Roman superiors; as an architect of proposals to deconstruct the Roman liturgy, Catholic education and the all-important field of catechetics.

Bernardin, it must be recalled, at least briefly, was sponsored, tutored and promoted by a number of dubious characters, not only his clerical godfather and mentor, Archbishop Paul Hallinan of Atlanta, who served as a bishop in Bernardin's hometown, Charleston. Bernardin's other "godfather" was Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Dearden, who would be responsible for the appointment of such notorious pro-homosexual bishops as Detroit Auxiliary Tom Gumbleton, Ken Untener of Saginaw, Joseph Imesch of Joliet, and Springfield's Daniel Ryan.

Bernardin's supporters look at all his accomplishments and call them good. To do so, they have to overlook many things, including his connections to some of the most evil men to ever enter the priesthood.

When Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago, died November 14, 1996 of pancreatic cancer at age 68, he proved himself an impresario to the end, conducting a public relations/media blitz that crescendoed with calls for his canonization....

Everything he did, from the well-publicized death-bed visit by his dear friend Ann Landers, to the gay choir that sang at his funeral Mass, the visit by Hillary Clinton and the letter from her husband, Bill, to the Bernardin books and the documentary video produced and released as soon as he was buried, was orchestrated perfectly....

There were many reasons why Bernardin welcomed death, least of which was that his carefully crafted image as the saintly prelate, the good listener, the consensus builder, the faithful son of the Church, was rapidly dissolving.

His closest friend from his South Carolina days, Monsignor Frederick Hopwood, had been accused of abusing hundreds of boys dating back to the early 1950s, when he and Bernardin shared a residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, where some of the alleged abuse took place.

An attorney involved in representing some of Hopwood's victims told Roman Catholic Faithful, "Hopwood was not your ordinary pedophile. He abused hundreds of boys at the rectory at a time when Bernardin was serving, theoretically, as assistant chancellor and at Camp St. Mary's in Beaufort."...

At the time the Hopwood allegations became public in late December 1993, Bernardin was having trouble on another front. A former seminarian from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Steven Cook, filed a $10 million lawsuit against Bernardin and Cincinnati priest Ellis Harsham The suit accused Harsham, when he was a priest at St. Gregory seminary in Cincinnati in the mid 1970s, of numerous coercive sexual acts against him, and then delivering him to Bernardin, then archbishop of Cincinnati, for the same purposes.

Several months later, however, in February 1994, Cook dropped Bernardin from the suit, saying he couldn't trust his memory. Cook never retracted his charges; nor did he say they were inaccurate — contrary to the accepted party line that Bernardin had been exonerated, which persists to this day. Four months later, Cook's suit against Harsham was conveniently, at least for Bernardin, settled out of court. While Bernardin was allowed to remain as Archbishop of Chicago, Harsham was placed immediately on administrative leave when the lawsuit was filed; he left the priesthood a few months later.

While Bernardin went on to have a very public (and filmed) reconciliation with Cook, showing the world what a generous man he was in forgiving a man who had accused him of sexual crimes, Bernardin's lawyers were involved in hushing up another case in which seminarians in Winona, Minnesota, had accused Bernardin and three other bishops of participating in sexual/satanic rituals at the seminary. Among the facts that the plaintiffs in that case marshaled for their suit: Bernardin was frequently accompanied by Steven Cook. The settlement stemming from the lawsuit has been sealed, but details of the settlement have made their way to select individuals, including this reporter, from a bishop who received a copy of the settlement.

In the two years leading up to his death, even as he orchestrated brutal assaults against clerical sexual abuse victims of clerical sexual abuse and their parents in Chicago, one after another of Bernardin's closest clerical friends from his native Diocese of Charleston made the newspapers, all for charges of pedophilia: Father Eugene Condon, Father Justin Goodwin, Father James Robert Owens-Howard, Father Paul F.X. Seitz, in addition to continuing allegations against Hopwood.

It is the Hopwood case that, perhaps, raises the most suspicions about Bernardin.

Hopwood, ordained in June 1951 in Maryknoll, New York, began working as a priest in the Charleston Diocese in January 1952. He was incardinated into the Charleston Diocese in November 1954, and appointed assistant chancellor. Reputedly, he was Bernardin's best friend and seminary roommate.

Bernardin was ordained April 26, 1952, at St. Joseph's Church in Columbia. In 1954, he was appointed chancellor of the diocese by Bishop John Russell, who himself [was] accused of Satanism and sexual abuse by the same woman, "Agnes," who [also] accused Bernardin of sexual abuse and took all her charges to the Vatican in person. Agnes' story, and the ritual she was subjected to, was dramatized in the opening chapter of the late Malachi Martin's frightening novel of ecclesiastical intrigue, Windswept House.

According to Marion Lafong, who was sexually abused by Hopwood in the late 1950s, Bernardin and Hopwood (and the other priests named above) "were buddies." In an interview shortly after Bernardin's death, Lafong said that one of his co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Hopwood was sodomized in the cathedral rectory by Hopwood and another priest, though that victim didn't know who the perpetrator was because he had been blindfolded.

He also declared that in negotiations with the Archdiocese of Chicago lawyers in the efforts to settle the lawsuits without a trial, "Bernardin's name came up a large number of times," along with charges that Hopwood had presided over satanic rituals involving animals in the woods where some of his victims were abused. While Hopwood was resident at the cathedral in Charleston, he was also working at Bishop England High School and was chaplain at the Citadel.

Bernardin was named monsignor in 1959, and continued to serve the bishop as chancellor and, after 1966, as an auxiliary bishop in Atlanta, under Archbishop Paul Hallinan, his mentor who was among the most strident and aggressive "Americanists" in the U.S. hierarchy at the time.

Bernardin acquired power rapidly. As his friends back in Charleston continued buggering little boys, Bernardin used his influence, starting in 1968, as General Secretary of the U.S. Catholic Conference, to select bishops (many of whom are still ordinaries) who would, to put it charitably, condone and promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and tolerate the sexual abuse of children by priests.

In December 1994, another of Bernardin's circle was accused of sexual abuse, Father Paul Seitz, then 67, pastor of Prince of Peace parish in Taylor, South Carolina. At the time charges were filed, diocesan spokeswoman Mary Jeffcoat said, the abuse happened while Seitz was stationed in Aiken County 30 years ago, in 1964.

In June 1996, another priest in Bernardin's circle of friends, Father Eugene Condon, then 66, retired from active ministry, three weeks after the 9th Circuit solicitor's office informed the diocese it was investigating Condon on charges he had sexually abused minor males and exposed them to pornography and alcohol.

In June 1995, Father Justin Goodwin, then 89, was charged with sexual abuse of minor males. Goodwin had served in the Charleston diocese, which includes all of South Carolina, since 1953. Before that he served in Washington, D.C., New York and North Carolina churches. Interestingly, he too spent time at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston....

Update as of April 20:

"Ex-priest tied to child sex abuse case resigns post with local church group"

© Matt C. Abbott


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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