Msgr. Michael Harris – Diocese of Orange

Monsignor Michael Harris

Diocese of Orange

Ordained: 1972

Removed: 1994

Laicized: 2001

Assigned as follows:

  • 1972-1974      Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (Monrovia, CA)
  • 1975                St. Philip Neri Catholic Church (Lynwood, CA)
  • 1976-1977      St. Polycarp Church (Stanton, CA)
  • 1978-1987      Mater Dei High School (Santa Ana, CA)
  • 1988-1994      Santa Margarita High School (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA)
  • 1995-2000      Inactive leave

Summary of Abuse Allegations against Monsignor Michael Harris:

Monsignor Michael Harris worked for over twenty years in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange. According to media reports, he was the founding principal of Santa Margarita High School, where he worked until being accused of sexual abuse in January 1994. The allegations claimed Monsignor Harris had sexually abused a boy while he was at Mater Dei High School from 1977 to 1979. The boy’s mother made the allegations after her son died of AIDS. While her son was suffering from AIDS several years earlier, she suggested that he call Monsignor Harris, a trusted family friend for counseling.

“He became extremely distraught and angry. He told me he had been molested by Father Harris and never wanted to see him again,” she said. “He swore me to secrecy.”

Monsignor Harris was accused of sexually abusing another male student at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana in 1991. The Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Diocese of Orange agreed to pay a third accuser a total of $5.2 million in 2001. 

Shortly after the allegations, he resigned from his position at Santa Margarita High School for unrelated reasons. In the years following this accusation, Monsignor Harris was accused of sexually abusing a number of other boys and has been the subject of multiple settlements. Monsignor Harris, once nicknamed “Father Hollywood” for his charisma and energy, has repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual abuse.

One alleged victim said his stepmother asked Monsignor Harris to counsel him when he was a Mater Dei freshman, after the sudden death of his father six weeks after remarrying. During the first counseling session in Monsignor Harris’ Mater Dei office, the priest fondled him. Soon, he was forcing the boy to perform sex acts, both in his school office and his home in Orange, and continued throughout all four years of high school, the victim said.

“He said it was our secret and I was to tell no one,” the victim said. 

Another alleged victim was was close to suicide. He went with his family to tell Monsignor Urell that his counseling sessions in high school with Monsignor Harris had turned into weekly sexual molestations. In 2001, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange agreed to pay the student a total of $5.2 million, a record settlement.

“We apologized,” said a spokesman for the archdiocese. “The Catholic Church strongly condemns the kind of activity complained of in this case. We’re committed to ensuring the safety of our ministries for our people, especially our children.” 

Shortly after in November, Monsignor Harris was laicized. Three years later, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles listed 12 accusers of Monsignor Harris in a 2004 report on clergy sexual abuse. Monsignor Harris was included in a press release issued by the Diocese of Orange in 2004 as a priest accused and removed from ministry. A year later, in 2005, the Diocese of Orange settled with an additional nine accusers of Monsignor Harris. A final settlement was reached in 2012. 

His personnel file was released in May 2012. The latest case settled by the Diocese of Orange in June 2012 was for $2 million. The victim is a decorated military pilot who accused Monsignor Harris of abusing him in late 1986 or early 1987 when he was principal of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana and the victim was a student there. 

It is estimated that Monsignor Harris has cost the Diocese of Orange about $50 million in known settlements thus far. Monsignor Harris was included in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ list of priests accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. He was also included in the Diocese of Orange’s list of clergy removed from ministry and laicized through canonical process resulting from a credible allegation of sexual abuse. As of 2014, it is believed Monsignor Harris was living in Riverside, California. Monsignor Harris’ current whereabouts and whether he has access to children are unknown. 

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Orange.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Orange, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Orange now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims.  Call us at (888) 283-9922 or send an email to adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today.