Duluth Priest Sues Man Who Accused Him of Sexual Abuse
By Tom Olsen
Duluth News Tribune
July 1, 2016
A Duluth priest has turned the tables on a man who is accusing him of sexual abuse.
The Rev. William C. Graham, pastor at St. Michael's Catholic Church in the Lakeside neighborhood, is suing his accuser, who claims that he was abused by the priest nearly four decades ago.
Graham, 66, has been on administrative leave from the Diocese of Duluth since May 23, when his name surfaced in a lawsuit filed anonymously by a man identified as Doe 446.
The filing identifies St. John's Church, St. Benedict's Church and the Marshall School (formerly Cathedral High School) as defendants. Graham is not personally named as a defendant, but is mentioned in the suit as the focus of the abuse allegations.
On Friday, Patrick Neaton, a Chanhassen, Minn., attorney for Graham, provided the News Tribune with a nine-page complaint that he said will be served on Doe 446.
Graham's suit accuses the man of engaging in a "last-minute effort to obtain some sort of pecuniary gain," citing the fact that the lawsuit was filed two days ahead of the expiration of the Minnesota Child Victims Act, which temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits.
The lawsuit claims that the man's allegations have interfered with Graham's contractual obligations to the church and inflicted emotional distress upon the priest.
"Fr. Graham has no intention of remaining silent in the face of the false and malicious charges that (Doe 446) and the law firm have made against him in the lawsuit," Neaton wrote.
Mike Finnegan, a St. Paul-based attorney representing Doe 446, said he and his client had not seen Graham's lawsuit prior to being contacted by the News Tribune. However, he blasted the action as an attempt to publicly discredit his client's allegations.
"(Doe 446) is one of the most credible survivors that I've ever worked with in the last 14 years," said Finnegan, whose law firm, Jeff Anderson and Associates, is a leading national law firm representing child sexual abuse victims.
Finnegan said he's seen a handful of cases in his career where a priest has countersued an accuser, but said he has never seen a case prevail.
"Any time that a survivor has the courage to come forward and share that secret with us, that whole process is scary," he said. "When he has his perpetrator suing him, that makes it even worse."
The alleged victim states that he was abused by Graham in 1977-78 when he was about 15 to 16 years old. The suit describes him as a "vulnerable child" from a devout Catholic family who attended Cathedral High School.
The lawsuit states that Doe 446 "developed great admiration, trust, reverence and respect for the Roman Catholic Church," including Graham.
"The culture of the Catholic Church over plaintiff created pressure on plaintiff not to report Fr. Graham's abuse of him," the suit states.
The suit claims that the church knew, or should have known, that Graham posed a risk to children he was tasked with supervising.
In his countersuit, Graham unequivocally denied engaging in "any sort of sexual contact" with Doe 446. He said he did have interaction with the then-student, but only as a teacher, spiritual adviser and tutor.
The suit describes Graham as a "respected member of the Catholic community," with a 40-year career as a parish priest, teacher, educator and author.
Graham was ordained as a priest in 1976 and has become a prolific author and scholar, previously serving as a professor of theology and director of Catholic studies at the College of St. Scholastica.
Graham's lawsuit accuses Doe 446 of making the "erroneous assumption that Fr. Graham either could not, or would not, undertake to publicly defend himself against the charges."
Graham states that his reputation and ability to serve as a Catholic priest have been severely damaged by the allegations.
"The bishop of Duluth has formally advised Fr. Graham that during the time that he is on 'administrative leave,' Fr. Graham cannot say mass publicly, may not celebrate the sacraments, and as a practical matter may not hear confessions," the lawsuit states. "Therefore Fr. Graham can no longer function as the pastor of the St. Michael's Parish in Duluth."
Finnegan said he is not fazed by the fact that Doe 446 is apparently the first to publicly accuse Graham during the priest's 40-year career.
"The diocese hasn't shared any of his information with us," Finnegan said. "We don't know what's in his file. Usually, it's not until you have one survivor that comes out, like (Doe 446) did here, that other people get the courage and power to come forward. So I don't put any stock in it."
Kyle Eller, a spokesman for the diocese, confirmed that Graham is on leave, but limited comment on the matter.
"We have learned through media inquiries today that Father William Graham has filed a lawsuit in relation to an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor," he said. "We can confirm that Father Graham is on administrative leave. In keeping with diocesan policy, there is no further comment we can make at this time."