Suspended Priest Awaits Fate County Attorney Reviewing Case

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic [Phoenix]
July 13, 2002

In 1981, the Rev. Harold Graf wrote a Christmas message for The ArizonaRepublic.

He likened children to innocent lambs, kicking up their heels andcelebrating life. But he warned, "As lambs are devoured by wild dogs andcrafty lions, so innocent people are often the victims of greed, envy, lustand the insatiable thirst for power."

Graf had victimized a child less than 10 years earlier. For that deed,described only as sexual misconduct with a child, Bishop Thomas O'Brien on June 21 suspended Graf from any public practice of his priestly ministry.

Graf, 60, was one of the first three priests in the Phoenix diocese to beheld accountable under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter forthe Protection of Children & Young People, and the only one still in activeministry.

Diocese officials learned about the incident more than 20 years after ittook place, in 1994, while Graf was serving as vocations director for thediocese, according to spokeswoman Kim Sue Lia Perkes. But Graf remained activeas a priest, serving Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Sun City West and St. Joanof Arc in north Phoenix, where his duties included helping out in an activeyouth ministry.

The announcement came just as Graf was leaving St. Joan for St. ElizabethSeton in Sun City. Rev. Michael Diskin, diocese vice chancellor, said thereassignment, made before the national bishops meeting in mid-June, was "amatter of prudence," given the sexual-abuse crisis in the church.

Pastors with whom Graf worked said they were given no indication about hispast. Nor was the Maricopa County attorney notified until Graf was suspended.

Details of the incident, which the diocese describes as "sexual misconductwith a minor," are being withheld. Diskin said that is because the case isunder review by the County Attorney's Office and because the victim wantsconfidentiality. Graf was serving as associate pastor of Our Lady of MountCarmel in Tempe, home of one of the diocese's 25 elementary schools, when ittook place.

"He was a good priest for a long time," O'Brien said. "But sexual contactwith a minor, whether six months or three decades ago, will result in removalfrom the ministry because it is the right thing to do."

The diocese says Graf committed no violations since the single incident.

Diskin and O'Brien said Graf was well-liked, even loved.

Fellow priests and parishioners alike said he was an outstanding speaker, apopular priest and one who was active in many aspects of a parish.

Jack Hawn, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes, said Graf was active with themen's club, and when he came back from St. Joan to lead the annual retreat,240 men showed up.

"Many parishioners became close friends," Hawn said.

During the retreat, Hawn said, Graf condemned abusive priests and calledfor an end to mandatory celibacy.

The Rev. Larry Weidner, pastor of St. Joan, wrote in the parish bulletin,"His presence as a presider puts people at ease and has always been veryinviting. ... I know how much the children and teens have enjoyed hisclassroom visits."

Graf wrote on the celibacy question in the same issue of the bulletin.

The Rev. Patrick Robinson, pastor at Blessed Sacrament in Scottsdale, saidGraf was "well-loved" at that parish.

The Rev. Frank Bartel, pastor at what would have been Graf's newassignment, worked with Graf at Blessed Sacrament in the late 1980s and early'90s. He said the news took him by surprise, too.

"I don't think I'm naive," he said, "but I never noticed anything out ofthe ordinary." v At the same time, Bartel said, there is "no excuse" for sexually abusing achild, "especially in the context of the Gospel."

"It has no place in the life of a trusted servant of God," he said.

Not everyone is so certain.

Weidner, who invited parishioners to a meeting at St. Joan on June 24 totalk about the situation, said the majority of the 100 people attendingsupported the bishop's decision.

But, he said, he detected some conflicting emotions regarding Graf. He saidthat although church members demand zero tolerance for abusers, that demand issoftened when the abuser is well-known.

"I think at some point the bishops will have to revisit this issue" incases in which no subsequent abuse has occurred over a long period, Weidnersaid.

Sun City resident Hawn agreed the punishment was "harsh," assuming Graf hadnot had subsequent incidents for 30 years.

O'Brien acknowledged the harshness of the penalty but said protection ofchildren comes first.

Graf is believed to be in town, awaiting word from the diocese on what willhappen. He did not respond to an e-mail sent to him through St. Joan of Arc.

Diskin, the diocesan official, said that the diocese is obliged to providebasic support but that "it is too early to tell" what will happen to Graf.

Weidner, of St. Joan, said he had lunch with Graf at the beginning of July.

"He is doing as well as he can under the circumstances," Weidner said.


1968: Ordained in Rockville Center, Md.

1969-71: Associate pastor, St. Gregory, Phoenix.

1971-72: Associate pastor, St. Mary, Chandler.

1972-76: Associate pastor, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Tempe.

1977-81: Pastor, St. Paul, Phoenix.

1981: Pastor, St. Henry, Buckeye.

1982-88: Newman Center, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff.

1989-91: Pastor, Blessed Sacrament, Scottsdale.

1992: Unassigned.

1992-94: Vocations director, Diocese of Phoenix.

1994-2000: Associate pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sun City West.

2001-02: Associate pastor, St. Joan of Arc, Phoenix.

June 2002: Assignment to St. Elizabeth Seton, Sun City, is rescinded; Grafis removed from priestly ministry over an incident in the early 1970s.


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