Home videos discovered in the basement of a Catholic church in south central Illinois show up to a dozen local priests dressed in drag and engaging in homosexual acts, according to sources claiming to have viewed the videos.
The Diocese of Springfield has denied allegations that it confiscated the videos, but says that it is investigating their existence and whereabouts.
The material, which a parish source says included at least eight DVDs, was allegedly found by a parish employee in early 2018 in the basement of Mother of Dolors Catholic Church in Vandalia, about 75 miles south of Springfield and 70 miles northeast of St. Louis. The church’s then-pastor, Rev. Barry J. Harmon, was removed from ministry last month after investigators discovered pornography in his rectory; Harmon was also accused of misappropriating up to $29,000 in parish funds, and was charged in late July with driving under the influence of alcohol. He is voluntarily seeking laicization, according to a September 11 statement from the Diocese of Springfield’s Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki.
One source with knowledge of the Mother of Dolors office, who spoke with CWR on condition of anonymity, stated that the videos were among the evidence taken from the parish during the investigation of Father Harmon. An investigator, a former law enforcement officer working for the diocese, viewed the videos on a parish office computer, the source said. The unlabeled DVDs were taken from the parish along with pornography and drug paraphernalia, the source said.
A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield, Marlene Mulford, did not confirm the existence the videos, and told CWR that they were not among the materials taken from the Mother of Dolors rectory and turned over to police. This last point was confirmed by Vandalia police; “I am unaware of any homemade videos or drug paraphernalia,” from the search of the Mother of Dolors rectory, Police Chief Jeff Ray said in an email to CWR.
“Officials of the diocese have been hearing rumors of these videos, but no one has turned over any such videos to the diocese, nor is the diocese in possession of any such videos,” Mulford said. A priest in the diocese has been telling people that videos of priests dressed in drag were found and turned over to the diocese, Mulford said. “This is false,” she said.
The day after the investigator visited Mother of Dolors, parish staff noticed unfamiliar desktop icons on the computer the investigator had used, the source said; it appeared that several files from the confiscated DVDs had been copied to the parish computer. The source said the files were opened, and several witnesses viewed the videos.
Staff notified Father Albert Allen, at that time the parish’s parochial administrator, about the video files on the computer, the source said. Asked about this, Father Allen—pastor of St. Louis Parish in Nokomis, Illinois—told CWR, “I honestly don’t recall that. The way I would have handled that is to turn it over to the investigative team. The diocese had investigators down there. I had nothing to do with looking at computers.”
The morning following the alleged discovery of video files on the parish computer, parish staff noticed that sometime after the close of business the day before, the video files had been removed from the computer, according to the source with knowledge of the parish office. Staff said they were not made aware that someone would be accessing the computer.
Staff initially thought the computer or its hard drive had been replaced. Mulford confirmed that after the initial search of Harmon’s rectory, the diocese sent a forensic investigator to Mother of Dolors due to the “persistence of the rumor” about the videos.
“This investigator made a copy of a hard drive of the computer in the parish office but did not remove it,” Mulford said. No videos have been found so far, she said.
The diocese will be investigating the existence and whereabouts of the videos, Mulford said in a September 26 email to CWR.
“Given the persistence of the rumor and our inability to uncover proof, we have handed the matter over to Mr. William Roberts of the Special Panel for Clergy Misconduct,” Mulford said. “Mr. Roberts has indicated that he will retain an investigator to further examine this matter.” Roberts is a former US attorney for the central district of Illinois and former Sangamon County state’s attorney; he also served as chief legal counsel to former Illinois governor Jim Edgar. Roberts is senior partner with the Hinshaw & Culbertson law firm.
Catholic World Report spoke to three sources inside the Diocese of Springfield, two of whom claim to have viewed still images taken from the video footage and one who claims to have viewed the videos themselves.
According to these sources, the videos show priests dressed in drag, wearing Mardi Gras costumes and dressed as characters including Little Bo Peep and piano entertainer Liberace, known for his rhinestone suits and flamboyant personality. Other priests are shown partially clothed in a hot tub, the sources said. Priests are shown kissing, embracing, and “engaging in sex acts,” the source who claims to have viewed the videos stated.
One of CWR’s sources who purportedly saw the material stated Father Harmon was among 12 Diocese of Springfield priests identifiable in the videos. The videos also show unidentified men wearing shirts with the names of minimum-security prisons in Vandalia and Taylorville, Illinois. Some of the video footage was shot at Mother of Dolors church, although not in the worship space, one of CWR’s sources said.
Stephen G. Brady, president of the watchdog group Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc., said RCF has two different confidential sources who say they have knowledge of the Mother of Dolors videos. One of those individuals claimed to have viewed the video footage, Brady said; the other claims to have knowledge of the diocese’s seizure of the material.
According to Brady’s first source, “some of the videos were shot inside the church itself,” Brady said. “What’s so disturbing is this is only the tip of the iceberg. God only knows how much of this is going on and how bad it actually gets.”
From 2013 through 2016, Father Harmon was the Catholic chaplain at the Vandalia Correctional Center, a minimum-security state prison that houses about 1,200 inmates. The Diocese of Springfield also has prison ministry programs at seven other facilities, including the Taylorville Correctional Center. Most of those are staffed by priests.
The CWR sources saying they viewed the Mother of Dolors videos claim they observed several men wearing shirts with the names of two correctional facilities on them. Asked if inmates could be involved in these videos, Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, replied via email: “The Department possesses no evidence that indicates incarcerated individuals at Vandalia Correctional Center were involved in this case.”
Harmon was put on medical leave in October 2017. During his absence, diocesan officials discovered financial irregularities at the parish and “immoral activity inconsistent with the life of a priest,” according to Bishop Paprocki’s September 11 statement. Pornography was found in the rectory at Mother of Dolors, Paprocki states; a source familiar with the parish told CWR that it was homosexual porn, found in two trunks and a desk in Harmon’s office. Vandalia police determined there was no child pornography.
This isn’t the first time questionable videos featuring area priests have turned up in Springfield, according to two of CWR’s sources. The earlier videos, discovered at rectories around 2007 and in 2013, showed priests flirting with each other while dressed in drag or in costumes, the sources said. The behavior shown on the videos “was not sexual in an overt way,” one source said. Some of the participants were the same as in the videos found in 2018, the sources said.
Brady and RCF have contended for more than 20 years that a network of active homosexual priests exists in the Diocese of Springfield. The group spent years seeking the ouster of former Bishop Daniel L. Ryan for allegedly using teenage male prostitutes as young as 15 and sexually abusing four diocesan priests.
A source who contacted Brady and RCF last month said Harmon was in a longtime homosexual relationship with an ex-convict.
In 1998, a former prostitute named Frank Bergen told the State Journal-Register that Harmon paid him for sex on one occasion in the early 1990s, when Harmon was stationed at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Springfield. Harmon denied paying for sex, according to an unpublished transcript of an interview the priest did with the State Journal-Register. Harmon said Bergen, who was homeless at the time, threatened to go public with the prostitution story if the priest didn’t continue giving him money. Diocesan spokeswoman Mulford said the prostitution allegation was later examined by a special review board appointed by then-Bishop George Lucas. “Father Harmon was allowed to remain in ministry,” Mulford said.
In 2005, Harmon was accused of misappropriating $40,000 from St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Newton, Illinois. When a parish trustee started asking questions about a rash of spending with parish funds, Harmon fired her. The trustee went public with her story, and Harmon agreed to repay $40,000, plus the $8,000 cost of a diocesan financial audit. No charges were filed with police.
In the 2018 case, Harmon agreed to repay $29,000 to the diocese, Paprocki said last month. Vandalia police are reviewing the Mother of Dolors case, Police Chief Ray said.