Here’s a side of the story we rarely hear: the sister of a Catholic priest in Duluth says her brother was falsely accused and hung out to dry by his bishop. Excerpt:
My brother Fr. William Graham is a priest in the Diocese of Duluth. On May 23, 2016, his world and ours were forever changed. He was swept up in the fervor of clergy allegations. T.J. Davis’ accusation came two days before a window of opportunity to sue the church lapsed.
Initially, we had confidence in our religious leaders to work with us as a family. All my brother was really seeking from Davis was an apology for accusing him of abuse. He wanted his life and good name back. This was a bewildering time, creating devastating emotional pain. We assumed we would be working together with church leaders to seek the truth. What carried us was our belief that a just process by the church quickly would yield that truth. And with vindication would come reinstatement and an apology to our brother.
Bill took immediate action and hired an attorney to fight what he insisted from the beginning was a false claim. He took a lie detector test. Davis, his accuser, refused, Bill’s attorney informed us. A retired FBI agent administered the test to my brother and said after its completion that it was passed with flying colors and that there were absolutely no signs of deception.
Duluth diocesan Bishop Paul Sirba did not request the results of the lie detector test. After the accusation, Sirba quickly put Bill on administrative leave and left him to fend for himself. The bishop essentially deemed him guilty based on the single accusation.
We discovered Bishop Sirba and Vicar General Fr. James Bissonette failed to support my brother in his attempt to clear his name and return to his ministry. We were told by a deacon that Sirba and Bissonette advised other priests, deacons, and lay people not to attend Bill’s civil trial in the lawsuit he brought against his accuser. The diocese even issued a statement two weeks prior to the start of the trial that the accusation of abuse was “credible.” I can only imagine how this could have polluted the jury pool.
In a meeting on Oct. 4, Bissonette told us the standard used in determining “credible” is whether the accusation is possible. If so, all it takes to ruin a priest’s life is a whisper.
These religious leaders abandoned my brother and his sisters. Bill was left to fend for himself emotionally, spiritually, and financially.
How in God’s name is this right? A mere accusation, never brought to any kind of formal examination!
All it takes to ruin a priest’s life is a whisper. Indeed. If there’s more to this story that vindicates the bishop’s decision, I want to hear it. Otherwise, this looks horrible.
UPDATE: I have been receiving e-mails from people who say that they don’t know if this priest ever abused anybody, but they have had interactions with him, and find him to be a difficult, short-tempered man. FYI.
UPDATE.2: Reader Mark comments:
The shame is on those of you who condemn this bishop based on the account of Fr. Bill’s sister. I am familiar with both Bishop Sirba and Fr. Bill and am confident that we do not have a fair account of the situation in front of us.
Fr. Bill physically intimidated, my 26 year-old daughter, with a finger in the chest and a threat to have her fired (for refusing to supply him with a glass chalice), when she was employed at the college where he was assigned. This is not the only example of behavior that went well beyond being short-tempered.
I know Bishop Sirba quite well and have always considered him a good man and a good priest. Of the two men, I count one as trustworthy and it’s not the poor mistreated Fr. Bill. That doesn’t mean he is guilty of the charge. It certainly does suggest that there is more to the story, as Rod initially allowed.
By the way, has anyone else ever heard of a priest suing his accuser? I can well imagine a bishop discouraging support for such an action if he thought there was a chance that the accusation was true. If he allowed support for such treatment of someone who actually was abused, can you imagine the vitriol that would rightly be directed at him?