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Local View: Duluth Diocese disingenuous — to say the least

As a lifelong Catholic, I must ask what is happening to our church. Two weeks ago, my husband and I left Mass, confirming our decision not to return to our parish, St. Michael's in Lakeside. We had been attending patiently for the past two-plus years, waiting to learn the truth about our wonderful pastor-on-leave, Fr. William C. Graham.

On Aug. 23, a jury concluded that a single accuser interfered with Fr. Graham's contractual duties by filing abuse claims. I took the jury's determination to mean that Fr. Graham was not guilty of the accusation.

My husband and I attended the three-day trial, missing not a single word.

On Sunday, Sept. 2, an insert was in our church bulletin wherein the diocese, although acknowledging the judgment in the civil case, announced that Bishop Paul Sirba had chosen to remove Fr. Graham as pastor of St. Michael's and directed that the parish website and bulletin reflect his removal.

We were horrified by the bishop's edict. Thus, our decision not to return, believing if we continued to worship in our parish and contribute to this diocese we were only perpetuating a lie.

On May 26, 2016, Bishop Sirba placed Fr. Graham on administrative leave. A statement from the bishop was read at all Masses on Sunday, May 29, 2016, stating that Fr. Graham had been placed on administrative leave. No reason was given to parishioners.

Between May 29, 2016, and today, St. Michael's has been without a pastor. What does that mean to us as parishioners to not have our pastor? Fr. Graham is a pastor who was always there with spiritual guidance for each and all of us. In the past two years, parishioners died without Fr. Graham's tender guidance into life beyond death. Some lost children without Fr. Graham's help to understand the unnatural loss when a parent has to bury a child. Some parishioners slipped into the frightening world of dementia without Fr. Graham to pray with them and their loved ones. These were among situations I personally experienced with friends and family. Surely, in two years, there were countless other difficulties parishioners had to face without their pastor.

With the jury's determination and with the diocesan investigation, Bishop Sirba is in a position to reinstate Fr. Graham to his rightful position. Why is Bishop Sirba acting as a despot and ignoring his role as a shepherd? Is this what devout Catholics deserve from their shepherd?

More horrifying: is this how a devout priest of 40 years without a single other blemish on his good name should be treated by his shepherd? One individual made an accusation that could not be imagined in the minds of all who know Fr. Graham. The expected response from a holy shepherd, the bishop, would be to welcome Fr. Graham back with open arms and a joyous blessing. Why has Bishop Sirba not done so?

There are questions the bishop and those reading this can ponder. I need to see answers before I can return to any parish in the Duluth diocese.

Does Bishop Sirba think that any accusation makes a priest guilty, even when there are legitimate questions about the credibility of the accusation?

Is Bishop Sirba attempting to avoid guilt by association based on his previous position as vicar general to Archbishop John Clayton Nienstedt, as disturbingly considered in the journal Commonweal, the oldest independent Roman Catholic journal in the United States?

Does Bishop Sirba have a negative animus toward Fr. Graham? If so, why would he have approached Fr. Graham in 2014 to become pastor of St. Michael's after Fr. Thomas M. Radaich's untimely death?

Do parish members have any say in this matter?

Does Fr. Graham have any rights in this matter that has taken life as he knew it away from him?

We as members of the diocese need answers to these questions. Fr. Graham's life has been totally upended. Bishop Sirba knows the truth. It is time for him to stop hiding behind his miter and crosier and to bring this travesty to an end. What would Jesus do?

Judith Bonovetz lives in Duluth.