Matt C. Abbott
'Credibly accused' Catholic priest wins court case
By Matt C. Abbott
September 25, 2018
From a Sept. 24 story at Minnesota Lawyer
to read the story in its entirety):
In a man-bites-dog case with few if any precise corollaries, a Roman Catholic priest designated as 'credibly accused' of sexual misconduct by the Diocese of Duluth just last April has successfully sued the man who made the allegations against him.
After a three-day trial before 6th Judicial District Court Judge Theresa Neo, an eight-member jury awarded the Rev. William Graham $13,500 to compensate him for the $500 monthly stipend he did not receive during the period from May 2016, when he was placed on administrative leave from his job as parish priest at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Duluth, to August 2018, when the trial was held.
In answers to questions listed on a special verdict form, the jury said that Graham's accuser, former Duluth police officer T. J. Davis, Jr., 'intentionally interfered' with Graham's employment and, further, that his actions were not justified.
When asked for comment on this case, Deacon Kyle Eller, communications director for the Diocese of Duluth, provided me with the following statement (which was originally issued on Aug. 24):
The diocese was not a party to this lawsuit, which was commenced by Father William Graham against a private citizen. The diocese's commitment is to the safety of children. In that vein, after a thorough and deliberate process, Father Graham was determined to have been credibly accused of abusing a minor, and accordingly has been removed from ministry. Bishop Sirba stands by that decision, which has been affirmed by the Vatican. The judge in the case ruled that the diocese did not have to provide the documents of its internal investigation to the court. We continue to pray for all involved.
Background on internal investigation:
After first reporting the accusation against Father Graham to civil authorities, the diocese immediately placed him on administrative leave and then conducted its own internal investigation into the accusation against him. The investigation was conducted by an outside, experienced, independent investigator who reported his findings to the diocese's review board.
The review board, made up of 10 individuals who are experienced in social work, psychology, education, law, law enforcement, and medicine, reviewed the investigator's report and supporting detail, met with and questioned extensively the independent investigator, and then made its unanimous recommendation to Bishop Sirba for his consideration. The consensus was that there existed sufficient credible evidence to substantiate the allegation or support the conclusion that the allegation could be substantiated.
In accordance with church law, the bishop then contacted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican and obtained its guidance concerning Father Graham. As a result, Bishop Sirba removed Father Graham from public ministry. This removal remains in effect.
The Diocese of Duluth is committed to offering assistance to anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct on the part of clergy and strongly encourages anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse to report such abuse to the civil authorities and to the Diocese of Duluth.
David F. Pierre Jr. of TheMediaReport.com asserts that Father Graham was "falsely accused" and cites the jury's verdict as proof. To be honest, I don't know what to make of Father Graham's guilt or innocence given the diocese's statement. This is a case where one jury – in the secular court – decided in favor of the accused priest; but another "jury" – the diocese's review board – decided in favor of the accuser.
So I ask somewhat rhetorically: how do we determine whether Father Graham is truly innocent or guilty? (Yes, I do realize that God knows the truth.)
© Matt C. Abbott
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