Father Thomas Graham has not been permitted to "walk free" after the posting of bail on his behalf, according to an archdiocesan official who sought to clear up several misstatements about the case.
Father Graham is appealing a recent conviction on one count of sodomy on a teenage boy some 25 years ago.
The organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests posted on its SNAP Midwest Web site and contacted media Dec. 2 about "hard-hitting" ads it intends to place "prodding Catholics to speak up."
The ads claim Father Graham has refused to register with the state as a sex offender and resides within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility in violation of a state statute. The ads tell Catholics that "you’re helping a child molester walk free."
In a letter to priests and parish staff to assist them in answering questions about the proposed ads, Msgr. Vernon E. Gardin, vicar general of the archdiocese, pointed out that those claims are untrue.
And he told the Review that the archdiocese works hard to balance the safety of children and the rights of an individual as a citizen to due process of law, rights of appeal and presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Msgr. Gardin noted that before the sentencing Nov. 17, Father Graham was living at the Regina Cleri residence in Shrewsbury for retired priests under the order of the trial judge.
On Nov. 21, Msgr. Gardin noted, Father Graham left Regina Cleri consistent with the judge’s amended order that his residence be transferred. While his appeal is pending, he is residing in Dittmer in a monitored environment in a facility that is not within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility, Msgr. Gardin stated.
Father Graham registered as a sex offender in Franklin County when he moved to Dittmer, more than a week before the SNAP pronouncement, Msgr. Gardin said.
State statutes require sex offenders to register in their county.
Media reports noted that it is unclear whether Father Graham was required to register under the specific statute he was convicted of violating.
As reported several times in the Review, the archdiocese posted a $500,000 bond on Father Graham’s behalf.
Father Graham remains a priest of the archdiocese, and "the archbishop continues to have an obligation under canon law to provide necessary support for him," Msgr. Gardin said.
Msgr. Gardin noted that money posted for bond is fully refundable "and ... used strictly as a security against non-appearance by persons who are the subject of criminal litigation. Father Graham has been fully cooperative throughout the litigation process and in the initial stages of the appeals process. The archdiocese expects to receive a full refund of the bond when Father Graham’s appeal is concluded."
Father Graham "has chosen to exercise his right to appeal his conviction of charges of which he has continually maintained his innocence," Msgr. Gardin noted.
The funds for the bond posting come from non-parish real estate sales or investment earnings, he added.
"None of the funding of these costs comes from contributions to the Annual Catholic Appeal or to parishes," Msgr. Gardin said.
Msgr. Gardin told the Review that parish pastors were glad to know the "true facts in case they would be presented with questions from parishioners" in response to media reports or in case SNAP publishes a misleading ad.
Father Graham’s lawyers "are aware of all the obligations that have to be followed and the seriousness of the situation," he said. "They do follow the judge’s orders ... If you read SNAP’s Web site you would think we’re trying to sabotage the court system or put minors at risk, which is not the case at all."
He noted that the archdiocese carefully follows the directives of the U.S. bishops regarding accusations of clergy sexual abuse of minors.
No priests living at Regina Cleri are required by law to be registered as sex offenders, Msgr. Gardin said. He noted that Shrewsbury police and city officials investigated the situation, where some priests who live there have been sued in civil cases, and were satisfied there is not a threat to minors.
Father Graham testified at his trial that no abuse or inappropriate conduct had occurred. At the sentencing, his attorney cited several reasons to hold a new trial.
The victim stated that for 30 years he has carried a deep pain and has felt guilt and inadequacies since the abuse.
After the trial, a local journalist, Kevin Madden, published a commentary in a weekly newspaper chain questioning whether a clergyman in the St. Louis Archdiocese can receive a fair trial in St. Louis.
Afterward, the newspaper published a response on the case from Jennifer Joyce, the St. Louis City prosecutor, and letters echoing Madden’s concerns.