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City Prosecutors Accuse Priest Of Sex Act With Young Teen In Old Cathedral In 1970s

Nov 2, 2002 | Post-Dispatch Catholic officials removed a priest from his duties on Friday after St. Louis authorities accused him of sodomizing a boy about 25 years ago at the Old Cathedral downtown.

Friends of the Rev. Thomas Graham posted $1,500 in cash to get him released on a $15,000 bond. Graham's lawyer, J. Martin Hadican, said the priest was innocent.

Graham, 69, was unavailable for comment. He was to be arraigned later this month.

The charge, filed as a criminal information, accuses Graham of one count of sodomy. Authorities allege Graham performed oral sex on the victim, then about 13, in the cathedral's rectory.

The incident is alleged to have taken place sometime between mid-January 1975 and the end of 1978.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Ed Postawko said prosecutors believe no statute of limitation was in effect for such a crime when it happened and, therefore, cannot apply now.

Postawko said a St. Louis grand jury would hear the case.

Hadican said he believed the alleged victim in the criminal case was the same person who twice, several years ago, filed a civil suit against Graham. Both suits were later dismissed.

Hadican said Graham was "very upset" by the criminal charge.

"We vehemently deny the charges," Hadican added. "I can tell you in no uncertain terms this case will be vigorously defended. And we anticipate that Father will be acquitted."

Since 1995, Graham has been chaplain at Nazareth Living Center, a retirement center and nursing home in the Mehlville area.

The center is cooperating with the circuit attorney's office, said Sister Mary Kay Liston, one of three members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet's province team, which runs the center.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said it had now put Graham on administrative leave and temporarily removed him from public ministry.

In March, when questioned by the Post-Dispatch about allegations filed in civil suits against Graham, members of the archdiocese's sexual abuse review committee said that they had reviewed the case under new tighter, standards and found no reason to remove Graham.

They said there was "no one in public ministry in the St. Louis Archdiocese with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor."

The two suits that had accused Graham of sexual abuse of a minor were both dismissed at the request of the alleged victim, according to Graham's attorney, Ian P. Cooper, and others familiar with the cases.

Cooper said no money was ever paid to the plaintiff in either case.

"The archdiocese did an internal investigation in 1994 and decided the allegations were unsubstantiated," James Orso, an archdiocesan spokesman said Friday.

Graham was ordained a priest in 1960 and that spring was assigned as assistant pastor at Good Shepherd Church in Ferguson.

After six years, he was assigned to the old St. Mary Church in Bridgeton. In 1973, he was transferred to St. Pius V Church on South Grand Boulevard in the city.

He later went to the Old Cathedral downtown, then to St. Alban Roe in Glencoe in 1980 and to St. Bernadette in Lemay in 1989.

In 1995, he was moved to Nazareth.

Graham's alleged victim in the criminal case has yet to be publicly identified.

"Never a better time"

David Clohessy, national spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims advocacy group, said: "The moral of this story is that no matter what people say about the statute of limitations and other legal obstacles, if you were abused by a priest, talk to police, talk to prosecutors.

"All across the country, prosecutors are getting smarter and more aggressive about pursuing these cases. There never has been a better time to seek criminal prosecution."

The archdiocese said in a statement that the charge against Graham is based on alleged abuse more than 20 years ago and which became public seven years ago.

"Throughout this time, (Graham) has unambiguously stated that the allegation is untrue," the statement said.

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