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.
Sirba and Bissonette refused to consider facts from the civil trial or share a letter they said they received from Rome. They wouldn't even share the letter with my brother and his legal team. Sirba and Bissonette never apparently considered the hundreds of hours of testimony and the thousands of pages of depositions (all under oath) from that civil case. They in no way met any claim of transparency.
My brother has become a sacrificial lamb by Bissonette and Sirba for, I believe, the ineffectual handling of prior allegations.
In my view, my brother is an innocent man who was exonerated in court. But that does not seem to matter. We as a society must also hold those who make these kinds of allegations accountable.
Diocesan leaders refuse to explain why they will not consider the facts and findings from the civil trial. My brother remains in the limbo of administrative leave. This is not efficacy, justice, transparency, or honesty.
Parishioners, please do not forget Fr. William Graham, who loyally served St. Michael's parish in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood.
I have gratitude for three strong, brave women who came forward to question the decisions of Bishop Sirba, Vicar General Bissonette, and the Diocese of Duluth: Judy Bonovetz, Ellie Dryer, and Merry Wallen all had opinion statements of support for my brother published in the News Tribune.
Luanne M. Graham of Barnum is a registered nurse and the sister of Fr. William Graham, a Duluth priest.