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Man shares allegations of abuse at hands of Albany-area priest

June 13, 2019 07:45 PM

For the first time ever, a 49-year-old father is going public with his story of alleged priest sex abuse decades earlier.

NewsChannel 13 exclusively obtained "complainant’s statements" submitted by Michael Harmon to the lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, which confirmed it had forwarded to state prosecutors for review. According to Harmon’s statements, throughout his teenage years he was molested by a former priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany named Edward Pratt.  Additionally, Harmon claims he was threatened with arrest when he went to the bishop at the time for help.

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Now decades later, Harmon and others are starting to speak out as attorneys across New York State and beyond are preparing lawsuits under the recently passed Child Victims Act.

Mary DeTurris Poust, a spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Albany, told NewsChannel 13, "Edward Pratt was permanently removed from ministry by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard in 2002 following credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors. We continue to be horrified by reports of child sexual abuse, even years after the fact. We want to walk with survivors and try to help them bring some measure of healing to the scars we know can never be completely removed from their lives. Each time we have to revisit a story like this, we are angered and saddened anew by the way these survivors were robbed of their innocence and their childhoods, the way their families and their futures were ripped apart. Know that Bishop Edward Scharfenberger and the Diocese of Albany are actively working to do whatever we can to bring healing and justice to those who were sexually abused by clergy in this Diocese." 

Diocesan officials in Albany forwarded Harmon’s five-page complaint to the Albany County District Attorney’s Office. A spokesman at the District Attorney’s Office told 13 Investigates their office is unable to comment on any ongoing investigations.

To date, the diocese confirms it has paid more than $9 million in direct compensation and counseling to nearly 100 priest abuse survivors. In addition, the diocese is getting ready to initiate even more dismissals without sharing additional details with NewsChannel 13.

"I don’t think I will ever forget that monster," Harmon told NewsChannel 13.

It started at St. Catherine’s Center for Children in Albany, according to Harmon. The year was 1980. Harmon said he was 11 years old.

"He (Pratt) would touch my private parts. He told (me) if (I) ever told anyone what had occurred, that I would be taken away from my family and (I) would never see them again," Harmon said in his statement.

Pratt was vice chancellor with the Diocese of Albany at the time.

Harmon says Pratt also made him and another boy perform sex acts on each other.

"And Father Pratt would be there watching us," Harmon added.

Pratt was a trusted family friend in the Harmon home back then. Harmon said relatives had no idea what was going on behind closed doors.

The abuse, according to Harmon, stopped briefly a year later before starting up again when then Pratt came knocking at his door. 

"I can’t tell you how many times he would abuse me," Harmon stated.

The alleged sexual abuse also happened on vacation in New Jersey, according to Harmon’s statements.

"We shared a room together…and it was bad," Harmon said.

Records obtained by NewsChannel 13 reveal Harmon’s academic and behavioral issues back then. 

Around age 16, he says he confided in the priest running the chancery and then Bishop Howard J. Hubbard.

"I told Bishop Hubbard that Father Pratt’s been touching me. I said, 'I need help, I don’t know what to do, I need somebody to help,' and that’s when he said, '…if I ever hear you again, say anything to anybody I will have you arrested.'"

Harmon is represented by attorney James Marsh with the Marsh Law Firm.

"Michael is obviously very courageous in bringing forth his story," Marsh said, "and it's graphic and hard to listen to at times, but I think for people sitting out there in their homes thinking about this issue, this is what he experienced as a child."

Marsh says the 20-year effort to get the Child Victims Act passed now means a wave of lawsuits coming in August. The CVA extends the statute of limitations, giving a one-year window for victims to speak out and seek justice.

"We’re looking at over 200 across the state of New York and literally the phone rings every day with new clients and new claims," Marsh told NewsChannel 13. "So yes this is an epidemic."

NewsChannel 13 took Harmon’s allegations right to Pratt. Reporter Jill Konopka spoke to Pratt over the intercom outside his apartment. When asked about Harmon, Pratt responded, "I’d rather not," before confirming that, "the name sounds familiar."

Pratt then added, "I’d like to talk to my lawyer then." 

Pratt did not provide the name of an attorney he was working with and has not returned several follow-up phone calls from NewsChannel 13. 

When Harmon learned NewsChannel 13 paid a visit to Pratt’s home, Harmon responded, "The people that work for God are like your parents. You’re supposed to trust them."

The Albany Diocese confirms Pratt’s final assignment was at Corpus Christi Church in Round Lake. Pratt served from 1996-2002 before being removed by the Albany Diocese.

His name and dozens of others are on the current list supplied to NewsChannel 13 by the diocese as those credibly accused. Of the 47 priests named, nearly half are deceased. A diocesan spokesman says those still living, including Pratt, are permanently barred from serving as priests. All but two on the list provided by the diocese are still receiving health and pension benefits through the priest retirement plan.

"What we know about offenders is that they are often times protected at institutions. They will go to any length to gain access to children," Marsh said.

NewsChannel 13 requested on-camera interviews with both Bishop Edward Scharfenberger and Hubbard. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany declined interviews on behalf of both bishops.

Regarding Harmon, DeTurris-Poust told NewsChannel 13, "The Diocese is anxious to walk with him on his journey toward healing. We encourage him, if he has not done so already, to reach out to our assistance coordinator, whose job is to see to it that survivors get the help they need and deserve."

"The Diocese continues its full cooperation with the Attorney General's civil investigation. This includes the rolling production of electronic documents as specified by the subpoena. The Diocese is complying with ongoing production of documents which include confidential victim/survivor information," DeTurris-Poust wrote in an email to NewsChannel 13. "Regarding the CVA, the Diocese is prepared to respond to any claims associated with the CVA consistent with the guidelines set by the New York State Office of Court Administration. In anticipation of the CVA implementation date, the Diocese has received communications from survivors and attorneys. In such cases, we promptly notify civil authorities as well as the diocesan Assistance Coordinator. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger and the Diocese are committed to assisting survivors through whatever course or remedy they may elect."

Harmon says he’ll pass on the offer from the diocese, confessing the problems with the former priest carried forward to his future.

"It will never leave your head. It never will. I had no place to go to," Harmon said. "If they didn’t want to talk to me, my mother didn’t believe me. I had tried suicide a few times, which, thank God, I failed. But even today, talking about my situation, it’s hard."

Scharfenberger established an abuse task force in April calling for comprehensive reform. Again, NewsChannel 13 requested an on-camera interview about the abuse task force and were told no.

NewsChannel 13 also requested an on-camera interview with the state attorney general regarding that office’ investigation into priest sex abuse files at every diocese in New York.  NewsChannel 13 was told the attorney general’s office does not discuss matters currently under investigation. 

The Child Victims Act allows lawsuits to be filed in August. The diocese confirms they’ve received notice from survivors and attorneys and remain committed to helping survivors anyway they can. 

The diocese told NewsChannel 13 there are no priests currently in ministry who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. 

According to the diocese finance office, priests receiving full pension benefits receive $1,900 per month in addition to health benefits.

Any accusations against local priests, the diocese said, are promptly reported to law enforcement authorities per protocols and are also subject to an independent investigation by the diocesan review board.

In the case of Pratt, who was removed in June 2002, the diocese clarifies that priests can be dismissed or dispensed from the clerical state via a canonical process.  In Pratt's case, he was removed from ministry and cannot act or serve as a priest, though he has not been dismissed from the clerical state.


MORE INFORMATION:

Statement from Bishop Howard J. Hubbard

Clergy credibly accused within the Diocese of Albany

Credits

Jill Konopka

Copyright 2019 WNYT-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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