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New York-based Covenant House announced September 17 that it has fired a well-known crusader for the defense of abused children in Latin America. Bruce Harris, a British citizen who had directed Casa Alianza, the Latin American arm of the organization, for 15 years, admitted he paid a Honduran teen for sexual favors.

The boy, who is variously described as 18 or 19, lived in a Casa Alianza shelter until late 2002. The young man, who brought charges, said Harris picked him up at a city park around midnight on July 14 and drove him to a nearby hotel in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Casa Alianza runs youth programs in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Before the Covenant House announcement, Harris, 59, said in a prepared statement that he resigned because he was worn out and wanted to spend more time with his family.

Harris's case is not the first involving scandal in the work of Covenant House. Prosecutors charged Father Bruce Ritter, the founder and longtime president of Roman Catholic-related Covenant House, with sexual misconduct in 1989.

Ritter denied the charges, but ministry officials ordered him to take a leave of absence when questionable financial transactions surfaced. He later resigned.

The Covenant House board eventually found no serious financial impropriety. It did find extensive evidence of sexual misconduct. Police never charged Ritter, who died in 1999, with any criminal wrongdoing.

In Costa Rica, where Harris lives and where he maintained the Casa Alianza office, officials were indignant that someone who was so public in his condemnation of those who exploit children would himself be caught abusing a child. Honduran officials said they are investigating whether Harris broke any laws and should be extradited. ...

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November 2004

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