NORWICH, Conn. (AP) – A group of Catholics in Maine is questioning the actions of Norwich’s bishop in the case of a Maine priest who ran a pornographic Web site.

Members of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful said Norwich Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Cote had knowledge of the Rev. John Harris’ sexual misconduct when Cote was auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, but did not address it.

Harris, 48, was removed from the ministry in Sabattus, Maine, in 2000 after the Portland diocese learned he ran a pornographic Web site for gay priests called St. Sebastian’s Angels, The Day of New London reported. The site, which had 55 active members, included a pornographic video, photographs of nude men and chat messages that included where to find “hot, hairy, hunky men.”

Harris went to Baltimore for treatment and returned to the ministry several months later at Our Lady of the Lakes in Oquossoc, Maine. A spokeswoman for the Portland diocese said the parishioners of Oquossoc were fully informed of Harris’ involvement with the Web site.

This month, Harris was disciplined by the diocese after it was disclosed he had engaged in nude swimming and hot-tubbing with minors at a summer camp 20 years ago.

Paul Kendrick, co-founder of the Maine chapter of Voice of the Faithful, said Cote knew two to three years ago of Harris’s sexual misconduct.

“Bishop Cote chose to do nothing about Harris, therefore he did nothing to protect children,” Kendrick said. “Harris continued as a pastor with Bishop Cote’s blessing.”

Cote defended his actions in a letter sent Tuesday to priests in the Norwich diocese. He said that he removed Harris in 2000 after he learned about the Web site, and Harris was reinstated after a positive recommendation from his therapist.

Cote said that in 2002, an accusation was made that Harris had bathed nude with minors 20 years ago, but the accuser did not claim to have been abused and there was no allegation of any sexual contact.

An investigation by the diocese was still ongoing when Cote was appointed bishop of Norwich, he said. The investigation has still not been completed, he said, even though the bishop of Portland removed Harris from his parish in the last two weeks.

“The difficulty with this case was that a victim never surfaced,” Cote wrote. “While the investigation was ongoing, there was only an accusation, but no identified victim.

“The dilemma for the bishop of Portland was a matter of justice and fairness to the priest,” Cote wrote.

In May 2002, the Portland diocese turned over all records of complaints to the state’s attorney general. Around that time, a photograph surfaced that showed Harris with a minor who was nude.

Cote’s spokeswoman, Jacqueline Keller, said the diocese did not immediately remove Harris in response to the camp complaint because until the photograph surfaced “there was really no victim.”

She said, “It was only after a photograph of him nude with a minor was sent that there was actual proof.”

A spokeswoman for the Portland diocese said Harris requested a leave of absence after the photo surfaced. He began the leave in August, and shortly afterward the diocese completed its investigation, finding sufficient grounds to begin a disciplinary process.

That process will have to wait for Harris’ return. His leave could last as long as a year.

AP-ES-09-11-03 2017EDT

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