A retired Catholic priest has been charged with molesting a 10-year-old girl more than 40 years ago while he served at Our Lady of Loretto Catholic Church in Novato.
Arthur Harrison, 72, of Brookdale is charged with three felony counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act upon a child under the age of 14 and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Marin Superior Court.
Court records indicate a woman, now 52, reported last August that she was sexually abused by Harrison in May 1961 and that he subsequently admitted the conduct to a Novato police detective.
The alleged crimes involve “substantial sexual conduct,” court records show.
“Most of it is false,” Harrison said when he was reached at his Santa Cruz County home yesterday. “That’s all I want to say.”
Harrison was informed of the criminal case by mail and has not yet been arrested or booked. He would face a maximum 12-year prison sentence if he is convicted as charged, according to Deputy District Attorney Paul Haakenson, who filed the case.
A secretary at Our Lady of Loretto referred all questions to San Francisco Archdiocese spokesman Maurice Healy, who said church officials were contacted in 1990 about allegations of sexual abuse involving Harrison. He said the reporting party was referred to the San Jose Archdiocese, where Harrison was serving.
San Jose Archdiocese spokeswoman Roberta Ward, who was unaware of the criminal case, said Harrison retired from the priesthood about 10 years ago after serving as pastor at two Santa Clara County churches in Milpitas and Saratoga.
The San Jose Archdiocese was established in 1981 after Catholic churches in Santa Clara County were severed from the San Francisco Archdiocese. Ward said Harrison’s personnel files were likely transferred to her archdiocese but she said she couldn’t immediately determine how long he was at the Novato church or where he went from there.
Harrison is being charged under a California law that allows sex crimes to be pursued beyond the normal statute of limitations if a prosecutor does so within a year after the allegations are first reported to police and if there is corroborating evidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling next month on the legality of the law based on an appeal of a Contra Costa County case.
Opponents of the law contend it is unconstitutional because it runs afoul of the Constitution’s ex post facto clause, meaning that defendants like Harrison are being charged for acts said to have occurred before the 1994 law was conceived and enacted.
Harrison is the fourth current or former Catholic priest charged with sex crimes in Marin under the exemption law. The other three, as well as another man, have failed to have their cases dismissed on constitutional grounds or to have their proceedings postponed until after the high court’s decision.
The cases against Harrison, the Rev. Jerome Leach, Guy Murnig and the Rev. Milton Walsh resulted from the release of names last year by the San Francisco Archdiocese of members of the clergy that had been accused internally of sexual indiscretions.
A request for suspect names had been made by San Francisco prosecutors in light of a national sex scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.
Prosecutors in Marin, which is in the same archdiocese, were provided fewer than 10 names.
Walsh, 50, also served at Our Lady of Loretto.
He faces a preliminary hearing next month on charges that he molested a pre-teen altar boy in 1984 during a visit to Novato after he was reassigned.