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A Retired Priest's View: 'Yes, I am angry!': Alleged abuse did not happen

I am a priest who has served in the Diocese of Duluth for more than 52 years. I have been an associate pastor and the assigned pastor in many parishes, and now, as a retired priest, I continue to help out in parishes almost every weekend.

I have never before written to the News Tribune. However, the Aug. 6 story, "Diocese names two Duluth priests as 'credibly accused'," compelled this response. That this article came out just two weeks before a court trial involving Fr. William Graham did not seem coincidental.

Fr. Graham was accused more than two years ago, in May 2016, of sexual abuse decades earlier. The accusation came hours before a window of opportunity to sue elapsed.

I personally was shocked and upset. I contacted Bishop Paul D. Sirba and asked what this was about. He told me it was confidential and he could not discuss the details with me.

The Aug. 6 News Tribune article said Fr. Graham was found by the diocese to be "credibly accused." I was even more shocked at how there seemed to be no evidence.

I then called the vicar general of the Duluth diocese, Fr. James Bissonette. I inquired who determined that the sexual allegation was credible. I learned the Diocesan Review Board receives the report of an independent investigator and makes a recommendation to the bishop; the diocesan bishop then makes the determination.

I also learned that the Diocesan Review Board's role in the process is similar to the role of the vicar general and that the members of the board are assigned from both clergy and laity. The board's 10 members are not publicly identified.

The News Tribune article further said the alleged abuse took place in the pastoral residence of St. Benedict's Church — my rectory — in the summer of 1977 and that I, the uncle of Fr. William Graham, was pastor.

This somehow insinuated that I was a co-conspirator or was complicit to the alleged abuse. It hinted that I knowingly or unknowingly allowed the alleged abuse to happen. This has put a smudge on my priesthood and has angered me.

I lived in that rectory. I had my office in that rectory. The parish secretary and financial manager (she was a lifetime member of the parish) knew everything that was going on in the parish. Such abuse would not have gone on unnoticed from her and would have been reported immediately. The secretary, who had her office in that rectory with flexible hours, was coming and going almost every day.

Deacon Chico Anderson worked in the parish part-time with me, and he was also in and out of that rectory. I have never been approached, talked to, or consulted with by anyone on or related to this investigative board about this alleged abuse involving Fr. Graham. That includes Bishop Sirba and Vicar General Bissonette.

In all the times I approached Bishop Sirba, asking about any updates on the accusation of my nephew, he said it was a confidential matter and he could not comment. He may not be able to say something, but I can!

I categorically deny that any abuse occurred in the rectory in the summer of 1977 or at any time under my watch. I am insulted that Bishop Sirba, Fr. Bissonette, and the board seem to think this occurred by deeming the accusation credible. Fr. Graham was residing at St. John's at that time, did not have a key to my rectory, and did not have access to any aspect of my living quarters.

Fr. Graham has been seriously damaged by this accusation.

Yes, I am angry!

Yes, I am upset!

Yes, I am personally hurt!

I hope and pray that truth and justice will be served.

A Duluth jury agreed in August, finding in favor of Fr. Graham ("Split verdict in Duluth priest's suit against accuser," Aug. 25).

The Rev. Ronald Gagne of Cotton was pastor of St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Duluth from 1975 to 1982.

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