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  Priest Abuse Inquiry Widens
Panhandle Cleric May Have Molested 15 Teens or More, Authorities Say

By Steve McGonigle
Dallas Morning News
October 10, 2002

A retired Panhandle priest may have molested at least 15 teenage parishioners after luring them to the church rectory with offers to instruct them on sex education, a Texas Ranger said Wednesday.

The Rev. Edward Graff, 73, was arrested last Friday at his home in Quitaque, Texas, on a single felony charge of sexual assault of a child. He remains under guard in a Lubbock hospital, where he is recovering from surgery for a broken hip suffered in a fall in the Swisher County Jail.

Father Graff moved to Quitaque after the Diocese of Amarillo forced him in July to surrender his ministerial credentials because of an old allegation of sexual misconduct in Pennsylvania.

Although retired, Father Graff had been assigned by the Amarillo Diocese to work at four small churches in Silverton, Quitaque, Turkey and Memphis since 1993, diocesan records show.

Diocesan officials say they did not know of any local allegations of sexual misconduct by Father Graff until he was arrested last week.

Father Graff was taken into custody three days after the Briscoe County sheriff's office notified the Texas Rangers that a 15-year-old boy from Silverton had accused Father Graff of molesting him, court records show.

The boy told Ranger Jay Foster that he was hired by Father Graff to work at the rectory and had been involved in a sexual relationship for about a year. He said other young boys also frequented the rectory.

"Father Graff showed and watched with [the victim] movies portraying people engaged in sexual acts," according to a search warrant affidavit written by Ranger Foster. "[The victim] said that Graff had him watch these movies in order to prepare [the victim] for adult relationships."

The Dallas Morning News generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.

The boy told authorities that during their monthly encounters, the priest also engaged in oral sex with him and took nude photographs of him. The priest also said he wanted to see the boy's genitals to compare them with others, Ranger Foster's affidavit stated.

Ranger Foster said he interviewed Father Graff after his arrest but did not take a written statement. He declined to discuss what the priest said.

Officers seized 57 videotapes and a Polaroid camera during a search of the priest's Quitaque home, records show. The videos were commercial movies, said District Attorney Becky McPherson of Floydada.

Ms. McPherson, whose office is prosecuting the sexual assault case against Father Graff, said the evidence amassed in the investigation so far suggests that Father Graff is not a one-time offender.

"It sounds like somebody who has a lot of experience," she said.

Ranger Foster said his list of suspected additional victims has expanded from five to 15 as he has conducted interviews of the families of boys supplied by the victim.

Most of the boys are Hispanic teenagers from Silverton who were hired by Father Graff to do chores around the rectory or who occasionally spent the night there over the last three or four years, Ranger Foster said.

"Most of these kids are good kids from good families," he said.

Some boys had told their parents about their contact with Father Graff and were told to stay away from the rectory, Ranger Foster said. The first complaint to law enforcement was made recently during an unrelated investigation by juvenile authorities in Briscoe County, he said.

Matt Kerr, a spokesman for the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., where Father Graff worked from 1957 until 1988, said the priest was sent to a treatment program in Jemez Springs, N.M. for an alcohol-related problem. After he departed, diocesan officials learned of rumors that the priest may have engaged in sexual misconduct, Mr. Kerr said.

"There was never a victim, nothing like that," Mr. Kerr said.

Father Graff lived in New Mexico without an assignment from his home diocese until 1992, when he retired. The following year, he was granted permission to work in the Amarillo Diocese.

The Amarillo bishop at that time, Leroy Matthiesen, has said in earlier interviews that he spoke with the bishop of Allentown when he hired Father Graff and was assured that his previous problem was with alcohol.

Mr. Kerr said officials in his diocese told the Amarillo Diocese about the sexual misconduct rumors in 1993. But he said he did not know who made the contact with Amarillo or in what form the information was passed.

Amarillo Diocese officials have been unable to locate any old notices about Father Graff from the Allentown Diocese, spokeswoman Cathy Lexa said Wednesday.

In May, the Allentown Diocese turned over its files on Father Graff and other priests to district attorneys in its five-county area. Prosecutors have since said they do not intend to file any charges.

Allentown sent an unsolicited letter to Amarillo Bishop John Yanta in July, Ms. Lexa said. Mr. Kerr, the Allentown spokesman, said the letter was a response to an inquiry received from the Amarillo Diocese sometime after U.S. bishops met in Dallas in June to draft a new sex abuse policy.

When Bishop Yanta learned of the letter, he contacted Father Graff and told him that if he was in violation of the new policy, he would have to resign, Ms. Lexa said.

Father Graff subsequently resigned, she said, but in his letter to Bishop Yanta he said he was quitting because of his age and health concerns.

Until Monday, Bishop Yanta and his top aides had described Father Graff's departure as health-related.

After meeting Wednesday with Bishop Yanta, Ranger Foster said the bishop reiterated that he was unaware of any past allegations against Father Graff and pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

Father Graff is one of eight active-duty priests accused of sexual abuse who have left the Amarillo Diocese this year.

Any priest who had been to treatment for child sexual abuse was required to participate in an after-care program and none committed new offenses after going to work in Amarillo, Bishop Yanta has said.

 
 

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