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Priest Charged With Molesting Child

Oct 8, 2002 | Dallas Morning News

A priest recently removed from the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo has been charged with molesting a child under his supervision, and Texas Rangers are looking into the actions of a second former priest, the lead investigator said Monday.

One sexual-assault charge has been filed, but Ranger Jay Foster said he believes there might be additional young victims of the Rev. Edward Graff and the second priest, whom he declined to identify.

Father Graff, 73, was arrested Friday at home in Quitaque and charged with sexual assault of a child in June. He was initially jailed in Tulia but moved to a hospital in Lubbock after injuring his hip in a fall Sunday, Floyd County District Attorney Becky McPherson said.

Quitaque is a ranching community of about 500 residents about 95 miles southeast of Amarillo. Until he left in July, Father Graff was the priest of a small mission church in the town.

Bishop John Yanta acknowledged for the first time Monday that he stripped Father Graff of all ministerial duties in July after being informed by the priest's home diocese in Pennsylvania that he "may have been guilty of sexual misconduct with youth."

A spokeswoman for the diocese said in August that Father Graff's resignation was a direct result of the sex-abuse charter adopted by bishops in Dallas. But as recently as the day of his arrest, the bishop had described Father Graff's departure to reporters as health-related.

In a four-paragraph statement released through his spokeswoman, the bishop said Monday that he was deeply saddened by Father Graff's arrest. He promised full cooperation with authorities.

"Since we have not investigated this incident, we do not know the facts surrounding the arrests and have made no judgment thereon," the statement read.

Ranger Foster and Briscoe County sheriff's deputies searched Father Graff's home but would not disclose what they seized.

Ms. McPherson, who will be prosecuting the case, said the charge involved an incident June 15 – about a month before Father Graff informed his parishioners he was resigning for health reasons.

Additional charges involving the same victim could be brought as the investigation continues, Ms. McPherson said.

Officials would not discuss details of the alleged offense, but Ranger Foster said he was continuing to search for teenage boys who might have worked for Father Graff or spent the night at his home.

"We don't believe that a guy at age 73 just started to molest children," Ranger Foster said. "There may be quite a bunch of victims out there."

'Program priests'


Father Graff, who also served as the priest for mission churches in Turkey and Silverton, was one of seven priests who had been through a clergy treatment center who left the Amarillo Diocese this year.
The departures, which came just before and right after U.S. bishops adopted a policy on sex abusers in June, cost the sprawling, lightly populated Amarillo Diocese about one-fourth of its parish priests.

Each of the so-called program priests was required to participate in an after-care program and none of the recent departures committed any new offenses, Bishop Yanta told The Dallas Morning News in August.

Bishop Yanta acknowledged that a recent call for victims to contact the diocese about any new sexual abuse complaints had produced one response, but he declined to provide any other information.

Since June, the diocese also has been sued by the parents of a teenage girl allegedly impregnated by a former priest. A church deacon in Hereford also was indicted on child-indecency charges.

From Pennsylvania


In his prepared statement, Bishop Yanta said Father Graff came to the Amarillo Diocese from his home diocese of Allentown, Pa., after attending a treatment program in New Mexico for alcohol abuse.
Bishop Yanta's predecessor, Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, has said that he accepted Father Graff for assignment at the request of the bishop of Allentown. He said he was unaware of any sexual abuse allegations.

According to the Official Catholic Directory, Father Graff was ordained in the Diocese of Allentown in 1955. Computerized records placed him at two parishes in Reading, Pa., in the early 1980s.

Matt Kerr, a spokesman for the Allentown Diocese, said Monday that Father Graff retired in 1992. He said he did not know the reason for the retirement or whether the diocese was in contact with Father Graff.

Ranger Foster, who is based in Childress, said he was asked for help by the Briscoe County Sheriff's Department, which received the initial complaint about Father Graff.

A spokeswoman for Briscoe County Sheriff Jeff Fuston referred all inquiries to Ms. McPherson's office in Floydada.

Although Ms. McPherson said she was not aware of allegations against any other priests in Briscoe County, Ranger Foster said he was pursuing an inquiry into one other recently retired priest of the Amarillo Diocese.

"For some reason, the Texas Panhandle is kind of a dumping ground for priests with problems," he said.


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