SPRINGFIELD — A priest with the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese has been accused of "immoral activity inconsistent with the life of a priest" and has taken steps toward removing himself as a member of the clergy.
That claim was made by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki against the Rev. Barry J. Harmon in a Sept. 5 letter to the priests of the Springfield diocese obtained by The State Journal-Register over the weekend. The same information was posted Tuesday in a statement on the diocese's website.
Harmon, 55, who served as parochial vicar at St. Aloysius and Christ the King parishes in Springfield in the 1990s, has been the subject of an investigation by the diocese that he allegedly misappropriated up to $29,000 in church funds at parishes in Vandalia and Ramsey, where he served as pastor, the letter and statement said.
The statement also said that while investigating Harmon's tenure at Vandalia and Ramsey, pornography was discovered among his possessions. The diocese said the materials were "turned over to the Vandalia Police Department, who determined that no child pornography was involved."
In addition, on July 31, Harmon was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in Decatur.
"Considering all of this, the conclusion was reached that Father Barry Harmon is not suited for ministry of any kind in the priesthood and he said that he would voluntarily apply for laicization," meaning he would be stripped of his priestly duties, the statement said. "Please keep Father Harmon in your prayers for healing."
Vandalia police chief Jeff Ray acknowledged Harmon was the subject of a criminal investigation, after police were notified by the diocese, from Feb. 13 to March 16.
Reached Tuesday, Ray said that investigation is considered "closed."
Ray added the possible financial misappropriation wasn't part of the initial investigation, but the information has been reported to police.
No official complaint has been filed so far, said Ray.
The diocese's statement on Tuesday confirmed financial information from the two parishes — Mother of Dolors in Vandalia and St. Joseph's in Ramsey — has been turned over to police.
A diocesan spokeswoman declined comment beyond Tuesday's statement.
Harmon, who couldn't be reached for comment, was placed on medical leave in October to address "some physical health issues that were inhibiting his ministry," read the statement. Shortly after that, the "financial irregularities" were discovered at the two parishes and Harmon was dismissed from his assignments.
Paprocki addressed both parishes in person on Feb. 3. The diocese made full restoration of funds to the parishes, and Harmon has agreed to make full restitution to the diocese.
The statement was read at the two parishes, the Rev. Scott Snider said Monday. Snider referred other questions to the diocesan spokeswoman.
This isn't Harmon's first brush with financial irregularities in the diocese.
In 2005, an audit showed Harmon misspent approximately $40,000 when he was pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Newton, in the southeastern part of the Springfield diocese.
Like the most recent episode, the diocese reimbursed the parish, and Harmon was ordered to pay back the diocese.
Harmon had earlier fired Mary Jane Bierman, a member of the parish's finance council, who subsequently went public with charges of mismanagement.
Bierman told The State Journal-Register at the time the problem appeared to be poor record-keeping and extravagant spending by Harmon and a lack of proper receipts for his expenditures.
Reached Tuesday, Bierman said she found other financial irregularities at Harmon's post previous to Newton — at Saints Mary and Joseph parish in Carrollton — but was told by church authorities "to quit snooping."
"My point is that (the diocese) passed him along and knew about these problems," Bierman said.
Harmon was ordained a priest in 1990. He served as parochial vicar of St. Aloysius from 1991 to 1994 and parochial vicar at Christ the King from 1993 to 1997.
Harmon was also chaplain of the Vandalia Correctional Center and was associate director and later director of the diocese’s Office for the Diaconate.