Tuesday, April 02, 2024

DDF decision restores accused Minnesota priest to ministry in case that involved clergy dicastery, Signatura

Closing a complex case that involved another Vatican dicastery and a Vatican tribunal, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has acquitted Father William Graham, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth who was accused of sexually abusing a minor, on the ground of insufficient evidence to arrive at moral certainty.

In 2016, Father Graham was placed on leave after being accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1970s. Father Graham countersued his accuser and was awarded $13,500 by a jury in 2018—an award upheld by an appellate court.

Two years after placing Graham on leave—and during the same month as the jury trial—then-Bishop Paul Sirba, who had deemed the accusation against Father Graham credible, removed him from his pastorate. 

Father Graham appealed the removal to Dicastery for the Clergy, which in 2019 upheld the removal.

Father Graham then appealed to the Apostolic Signatura, which in 2022 overturned the Dicastery for the Clergy’s decision.

“The Apostolic Signatura reasoned that a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor was not a sufficient cause, by itself, to remove a priest from the office of pastor.” the diocese announced in February 2024.

In February, the diocese also announced that in 2021, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the governing body in Rome that oversees matters of potential misconduct by members of the clergy, instructed the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to conduct a canonical process in order to attempt to discover the truth of the accusations made against Father Graham.

A decision in that case was rendered in 2022. Father Graham exercised his right to appeal a part of that decision to the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. A decision of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith in that case was rendered in 2023 ... Father Graham’s appeal of the decision of the 2023 Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith is currently ongoing.

The diocese has now announced that the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith—in an apparent reversal of its 2023 decision—has “decided that there was not sufficient evidence presented to arrive at moral certainty that Father Graham was guilty of the accusation made against him, and therefore he was acquitted with a decree of absolution.” Bishop Daniel Felton has restored his faculties and removed him from the diocesan list of credibly accused clergy.

“Now that a final decision and decree of absolution has been issued by the Dicastery of the Doctrine of Faith, I will do all that I can to attend to the pastoral needs of those impacted by this very long and difficult process,” said Bishop Felton.

“I am grateful for the great and unwavering support of family, friends and parishioners,” said Father Graham. “I am saddened that the announcement from the diocese and bishop contains no hint of regret for the injustice I have suffered, and for their failure to show any mercy in the last 94 months.”