Matt C. Abbott
Two Catholic priests who Church officials found not guilty of abuse are still being kept out of public ministry by their bishops.
According to a recent story from KEVN Black Hills FOX TV:
Rev. Michel Mulloy was removed from public ministry in August 2020 following the allegation presented to the Diocese of Rapid City that a minor was abused in the early 1980s. Mulloy had served in the dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City, where he was vicar general.
On March 3, 2023, Bishop Peter Muhich released the following statement:
On August 24th, 2020, Rev. Michel Mulloy was removed from public ministry following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the early 1980’s that was presented to the Diocese of Rapid City in 2020. As required by canon law, a canonical proceeding to address the allegation was conducted by personnel who are not affiliated with the Diocese of Rapid City. That proceeding is now concluded, with a determination that it was not possible to ascertain with certainty either that the allegation was substantiated or that the allegation lacks foundation. Given the outcome of the canonical process, as well as the collective facts of this case that are now known, including consideration of the local Church, I have determined that Fr. Mulloy will remain out of public ministry.
In the Diocese of Rapid City, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to accompany those on a journey of healing who have been harmed. Anyone who has suffered sexual abuse should contact the local law enforcement agency or the Department of Family Services. Upon notification of the authorities or if you have any questions, contact the Chancellor, Sr. Christine Hernandez, SCTJM, at 605-343-3541.
Mulloy released a statement of his own:
I am hurt and saddened by the decision to deny me a public ministry in the Diocese of Rapid City. My heart is broken. The decision of the tribunal in Omaha was that I was not guilty of this alleged abuse. In church trials, a verdict of not guilty means that the accusation was not proven due to reasonable doubt. In an email after the decision was made, the Omaha judge said, ‘It is important not to read this as an inconclusive decision; he is not guilty of this crime and is presumed to be innocent of this crime.’
With this decision by the church officials in Omaha, I was hoping for a reconciliation that would allow me to return to some form of the public ministry that I have loved for 44 years, for and with the people of the diocese. However, I am bound by my vow of obedience to the bishop and I hope he will return me to public ministry in the future. Any further questions should be addressed to the Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City.
To me, unless an allegation of abuse can definitively be substantiated – and in this case, it couldn’t – the accused priest should be officially cleared and returned to public ministry. The bishop’s decision is odd and seemingly unjust. It appears the not guilty verdict of the tribunal doesn’t satisfy the bishop. The question is: why? The answer: We likely won’t ever be told due to the lack of transparency in these cases.
A somewhat similar case unfolded in the Diocese of Duluth, where Father William C. Graham was removed from public ministry in 2016 due to what the diocese had deemed a credible allegation of abuse. However, a civil court found for Graham when he (successfully) sued his accuser in 2018. The bishop still kept Graham out of public ministry, leading Graham to appeal to the Vatican.
Graham provided me with the following statement in 2020:
The Diocese of Duluth has failed to follow their own published policy, as found on the diocesan website, in regard to accusations regarding sexual abuse by a cleric. At no time, past or present, have I received the assessment and advice of the review board in this matter. I have never been interviewed by the review board. Indeed, I don’t even know the names of the members of the review board and thus, there is no manner of independent, unfiltered contact with the review board.
I am dismayed that I have been given no idea of why Terrence J. Davis’s frivolous accusation was treated by the late Bishop Paul D. Sirba as somehow credible, or what even he meant by credible. Bishop Sirba did not speak with me or Mr. Davis, nor did he avail himself of the hundreds of hours of depositions, and the thousands of pages of testimony available in the civil court testimony that led to the jury’s unanimous decision, a decision that was upheld at the highest level of the State of Minnesota’s appellate level, that Mr. Davis lied.
Suing my accuser, I faced him in a civil court and proved that he lied in making the accusation against me. Not only did an eight-person, layperson jury, after three days of trial and several hours of deliberation, unanimously determine that my accuser lied; they then imposed a judgment of compensatory damages upon the accuser.
Further, the decision against Mr. Davis has been affirmed by the Trial Court as well as upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Again, there remains a complete dismaying disregard of my right to due process, right of defense, presumption of innocence (even more than a presumption given the exhaustive trial and appeals in the civil forum), and right to a good name.
My diocese has failed to take the ecclesiastical steps necessary for me to vindicate my rights in a competent ecclesiastical forum. After four years of being held in a state of ‘limbo’ or abeyance, the chief executive of the Diocese of Duluth has refused to proceed to a penal process in accord with the norm of law that would discover the truth and resolve this matter ecclesiastically. Justice delayed is justice denied. I have appealed to Rome, and await their decision.
In December 2022, Graham informed me that “I [Graham] have indeed been found not guilty through the Vatican process, but still await reinstatement by the bishop of Duluth. Additionally, the Apostolic Signatura has ruled that I remain the pastor of my parish.”
We’ll see what (if anything) happens.© Matt C. Abbott
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