Garfield Priest under Investigation

By Michael Hasch
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
April 18, 2012

The pastor of St. Lawrence O'Toole parish in Garfield has been placed on administrative leave while the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh investigates allegations that he molested a child about 40 years ago.

Officials last week "received a very serious allegation" against the Rev. James Graham, 72, according to a letter from Bishop David A. Zubik that was read to parishioners at weekend Masses.

"The allegations against Father Graham involved a minor a number of years ago," Zubik wrote.

"The allegation has been judged to have what we describe as a 'semblance of truth' -- that the timing and circumstances surrounding the allegation fit the facts that are known," the letter states. "It does not mean, however, that a definite judgment has been reached."

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office is aware of the allegations and is investigating, spokesman Mike Manko said on Tuesday.

The allegations were made on Thursday and Graham was placed on leave the next day to await the results of an investigation, said the Rev. Ron Lengwin, diocesan spokesman. The person Graham is accused of molesting died recently and a relative made the allegations, Lengwin said.

The diocese announced last month that O'Toole had submitted his request to retire on April 30 because of the pending merger of St. Lawrence O'Toole and Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph in Bloomfield to form a new parish, St. Maria Goretti, said Robert P. Lockwood of the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper.

Lengwin said there have been no prior allegations of abuse against Graham, who was ordained in 1966 and who formerly served at St. Bernadette parish in Monroeville and St. Elizabeth Hungary in Pleasant Hills.

"I'm a little bit shocked and concerned," said James Jaap, a parishioner at St. Lawrence O'Toole.

"I believe it should be investigated because I have young children," Jaap said. "From my experience, I know Father Graham as a good man who has done a lot for the parish and the community."

Zubik's letter asks that anyone who has experienced abusive behavior by a member of the clergy to come forward.

Fran Samber, a Pittsburgh representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, questions whether the diocese is doing enough.

"It almost seems like they are doing damage control, somehow," Samber said. "I think it's OK for parishioners to ask church leaders what neighborhood is he in now. What is he doing?"


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