SABATTUS — A Roman Catholic priest who was sent out of state after being identified by church officials as the creator of a sexually explicit Web site for gay clergy will not be coming back, according to his parishioners.
Sister Lucille Fournier told churchgoers at Sunday services at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish that the Rev. John Harris would not return.
The Diocese of Portland would not confirm the nun’s report. Whether Harris will return is up to the bishop, who has not announced anything publicly, diocese spokesman Marc Mutty said.
Fournier recently spoke with Harris, Mutty said.
“She made unauthorized statements about Father Harris’ disposition,” Mutty said. “She doesn’t speak for the diocese.”
Three weeks ago, the diocese sent Harris to a program in Baltimore to be evaluated on his ability to remain a priest. The diocese would not discuss the program’s content.
Harris has since returned to Maine, Mutty said, but would not elaborate.
Parishioners said they hope Harris will be allowed to return to the pulpit.
“What he did was a stupid thing,” parishioner Donald Laliberty said. “But a priest is only a man, just like I am. I believe he deserves a second chance.
“He’s got a lot more good in him than bad,” he added.
Others said forbidding the pastor to return is too harsh a punishment.
“Whatever he did wrong, chastise him in some way but send him back where he can do his work,” said parishioner Lucille Terrio. “We’ve been brought up, and we’ve brought our children up, to forgive. If they do wrong, we don’t send them out.”
Mutty said the issue is not forgiveness, but what is best for everyone.
“Certainly the diocese and the bishop have the best interest of the parishioners at heart,” Mutty said. “It may be best for all concerned that Father Harris not return, but that doesn’t mean he’s not being forgiven.”
Parishioners also must realize that priests do not stay indefinitely, Mutty said.
“It’s very hard to see a pastor leave, and people get upset and emotional about it, but it’s part of the priestly vocation to move on,” he said.
Mutty said Bishop Joseph Gerry will continue to listen to the parish’s concerns but will not make a decision based on popular opinion.
“You can’t make decisions based on who’s popular and who wants what,” Mutty said. “That would be havoc.”
Terrio was afraid that if Harris does not return, the priest shortage will make it impossible for the parish to find a replacement. Parishioners fear the parish will either be merged with another or closed, she said.
“That’s a threat to us,” she said. “I think a lot of us are upset with the bishop.”
The bishop will decide after the term of the church’s acting pastor expires in three months, Mutty said.
“What the arrangement will be for staffing that parish, I don’t know,” Mutty said.