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  Allentown Diocese Settles Sex Suit
It and Insurance Carrier to Pay $275,000 to Texas Teen Who Says He Was Abused by Ex-Priest

By Ron Devlin
Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
August 30, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Allentown has reached a settlement in a sexual abuse case involving one of its former priests, the Rev. Edward R. Graff, who died last November in Texas.

The diocese and its insurance carrier will pay $275,000 to an unnamed Texas minor allegedly abused by Graff in June 2002.

Graff, who left the Allentown diocese in 1988, had been living in Texas since retiring in 1992. He was 73 when he died in University Medical Center in Lubbock after breaking his hip while showering in a Texas jail.

Graff had been jailed Oct. 4 by Brisco County authorities for allegedly assaulting a 15-year-old boy in Texas.

Diocesan spokesman Matt Kerr didn't know if the settlement was with the boy involved in the complaint that led to Graff's arrest.

At the time of his arrest, Texas authorities said there were reports of 15 victims in Texas and 12 in Pennsylvania. The case that led to Graff's arrest was the only one made public.

Despite the allegations by Texas authorities, the Allentown diocese has not heard from any of the other alleged victims in Texas or Pennsylvania.

"No one else, that we are aware of, has come forward," Kerr said.

Bishop Edward P. Cullen informed the church membership of the settlement in an open letter published in The AD Times, the diocesan newspaper. The public letter, he wrote, was in accordance with the diocesan policy of conveying significant developments on the issue to the laity.

"I want you to know of an action which our diocese took earlier this week," the bishop wrote. "I approved, subject to court approval, a settlement with a minor who alleges he was sexually abused by a priest of our diocese."

Under a canon law concept known as incardination, every priest is attached to a specific diocese. Graff was incardinated to the Allentown diocese, even though he was no longer an active priest there.

Though no lawsuit had been filed in the case, the settlement was advised by the diocese's insurer and its legal counsel because the diocese of incardination is legally liable for the actions of its priests. The insurer will pay $200,000 and the diocese will pay $75,000 from a self-insured fund.

"The settlement is in the best interests of the alleged victim," the bishop wrote, "and the diocese."

"As your bishop, responsible for the rightful shepherding of our Church, I have stated repeatedly that the sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is nothing less than a nightmare for the victim, for the family members, for the Catholic faithful and for the priests and bishop of the diocese," Cullen wrote. "It is a criminal and tragic betrayal of all that is sacred."

Graff was ordained in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in May 1955. He came to the Diocese of Allentown in 1961, shortly after its formation.

He served in seven parishes in Lehigh, Northampton, Berks and Schuylkill counties. He was sent to New Mexico in 1988 for treatment for alcoholism, and never returned to Allentown. When he retired in 1992, he had been a priest in the Allentown diocese for 31 years.

Texas Ranger Jay Foster, who investigated the Graff case, said last November that Graff was "very frail" after falling in the prison shower. He discounted foul play, saying it was an accident.

In court papers, the alleged victim said he watched pornographic movies with Graff, who sexually assaulted him. Foster said authorities seized 60 vidoetapes and a Polaroid camera from Graff's home at the time of his arrest.

Lehigh County authorities told Texas investigators that the statute of limitations had expired on local cases that might have involved the priest.

Seven priests have been dismissed from the Allentown diocese since 2000 because of allegations of sexual abuse. An eighth resigned.

The cases, including Graff's, rocked the diocese to its spiritual foundations and led to a tough policy regarding allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Cullen met with district attorneys in the five counties that encompass the diocese, providing them with full access to the personnel files of any priest against whom an accusation had been made. The diocese implemented articles contained in the Charter for the protection of Children and Young People, initiated at a convocation of American bishops last summer in Dallas.

An audit of the diocese's conformity with the charter mandates will be conducted by a national review board in September, the bishop wrote. Cullen believes the diocese is in compliance.

"I am sorry to burden you with this development," the bishop wrote of the Graff settlement. "Still, in my mind, not to convey this basic information to the faithful of the diocese is unacceptable."

The bishop concluded with a call for prayer.

"God alone knows what the future will bring to our diocese as regards this tragic scandal," Cullen wrote. "Please pray for me and for the continued good of our diocese."

 
 

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