Body of priest exhumed to establish whether he fathered a child decades ago

Jim Graham with a picture of the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, who he contends was his father.

For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.

He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.

The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.

“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”

Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.

Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham

“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.

Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.

“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.

Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.

Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.

He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.

Jim Graham visits the grave of Rev. Thomas S. Sulllivan.

“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”

That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.

Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.

The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.

Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.

“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”

The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”

Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.

Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.

The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.

If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.

After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.

Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.

Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.

Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.

O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.

“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”

But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”

Complete Article HERE!

Ex-Catholic priest convicted in women’s 1960 rape and murder

A former Texas priest convicted of murder in the rape and strangulation of a 25-year-old beauty queen who went to him for confession almost 60 years ago is set to hear testimony Friday in the punishment phase of his trial.

John Bernard Feit, 85, was found guilty Thursday in the slaying of schoolteacher Irene Garza in McAllen, Texas. The Hidalgo County jury that convicted Feit can sentence him to up to life in prison.

Garza disappeared April 16, 1960. Her bludgeoned body was found days later. An autopsy revealed she had been raped while unconscious, beaten and suffocated.

Feit, then a 28-year-old priest at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, came under suspicion early on. He told police that he heard Garza’s confession in the church rectory rather than in the confessional, but denied he had killed her.

Among the evidence that pointed to Feit as a suspect over the years: Two priests told authorities that Feit had confessed to them. One of them said he saw scratches on Feit soon after Garza’s disappearance. His portable photographic slide viewer was found near Garza’s body.

Feit had also been accused of attacking another young woman in a church in a nearby town just weeks before Garza’s death. He pleaded no contest and was fined $500.

This week, prosecutors presented evidence that elected and church officials suspected Feit but didn’t want to prosecute him because it could harm the reputations of the church and Hidalgo County elected officials, most of whom were Catholic. Sen. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was running for president that year.

Feit was sent to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico, later becoming a supervisor with responsibility in the clearing of priests for parish assignments. Among the men Feit helped keep in ministry was child molester James Porter, who assaulted more than 100 victims before he was defrocked and sent to prison.

Feit left the priesthood in 1972, married and went on to work at the Catholic charity St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, training and recruiting volunteers and helping oversee the charity’s network of food pantries.

Garza’s family members and friends had long pushed authorities to reopen the case, and it became an issue in the 2014 district attorney’s race. Ricardo Rodriguez had promised that if elected, he would re-examine the case.

Complete Article HERE!

Jury Awards Plaintiff $8.1 Million in Duluth Clergy Abuse Case

By Virginia Carter

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary

The jury attributed 60 percent fault to the Diocese of Duluth and the other 40 percent to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious order based in St. Paul. The victim testified that he was molested by the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald for two weeks and that church officials failed to adequately supervise the priest, leading to the sex assault. It’s the first such case to go to trial under Minnesota’s Child Victims Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations to allow victims to sue for sexual abuse which occurred decades ago. The award was less than the $11.7 million Weis had been seeking.

Attorneys said it was the first lawsuit to go to trial under Minnesota’s Child Victims Act, passed in 2013. That law opened a three-year window to file claims for older incidents of abuse.

In 1978, he traveled to the St. Catherine Parish in Squaw Lake, Minn., part of the Diocese of Duluth. It’s rare for a clergy sexual abuse case to actually reach a jury verdict. Anderson had asked jurors in his closing arguments Tuesday to find the diocese 90 percent responsible and the Oblates 10 percent responsible.

Diocese attorney Susan Gaertner declined to comment after the verdicts were read. They awarded Doe 30 $8.1 million for pain, suffering, loss of earnings and future medical costs. Fitzgerald, who worked at six parishes within the Diocese of Duluth between 1957 and 1983, died in 2009. “Through coming forward and standing up to them and taking this case to trial, that whole process was transformative for this survivor”, Finnegan said. “I think this verdict sends a clear message that juries are not going to stand still anymore and sympathize with the church”.

Anderson said he expects the diocese to appeal the verdicts and challenge the monetary award. Law experts say this verdict sets an important precedent for the hundreds of abuse cases that are pending right now against the Archdioses of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and other diocese in Minnesota. Wednesday, he said that he supported the jurors’ findings. “The reality is that the diocese has limited resources”, she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has Died

The man who figured so prominently in my ordeal with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate is dead. Despite the fact that he and I never saw eye-to-eye; Rest In Peace Francis.

francis-cardinal-george-featured-w740x493
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history” ― Cardinal Francis George

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After a long bout with cancer, he is gone. It occurs to me, remembering that quote of his (and more on it, here), that we now have an intercessor for our times — an intercessor on the issue of Christian Persecution.

First report, out of the Chicago Tribune:

Cardinal Francis George, the first Chicago native to serve as the local archbishop and a man who during that 17-year tenure became the intellectual leader of the American church, has died after a years long struggle with cancer. He was 78.

Archbishop Blasé Cupich is expected to make an announcement at 2 p.m. at Holy Name Cathedral.

Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities for the archdiocese, released a statement saying, “Today we mourn the loss of an incredible leader, guiding spirit and loyal friend. Cardinal George had compassion for all. You saw this compassion in his eyes as he visited with the poor and most vulnerable in our communities.

Please read the whole story about the fascinating life of this extraordinarily accomplished priest and pastor. I always loved how expressively he shared his thoughts. One of my favorite stories about him was shared by Father Robert Barron, in his excellent book, Catholicism, and which I quoted here:

Fr. Robert Barron recalls a comment made by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who had been asked what he was thinking as he stood on the balcony of St. Peter’s after the election of Benedict XVI. George said, “I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? . . . But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.’”

There is a wonderful meme I once saw on George that very succinctly spelled out how very impressive he was, in faith, and gifts and life-story. I will try to find it, so check back, because I will have more thoughts and links, shortly.

In the meantime, let us pray: Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon him!

Watch his successor, Archbishop Cupich’s statement, and live coverage.

John L. Allen, Jr: The “American Ratzinger” Dies:

George’s abiding passion was the relationship between faith and culture, and especially the urgency of a “New Evangelization,” meaning a new missionary zeal in Catholicism.

After his appointment as archbishop of Chicago in 1997, and especially during his three-year term as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2007 to 2010, George was the Vatican’s go-to figure in the United States and one of just a handful of American prelates whose reputation and influence reached around the Catholic world.

Among other aspects of his résumé, George will be remembered as the architect of the US bishops’ battles with the Obama administration over contraception and health care reform, and the leader who made religious freedom a signature concern for the bishops.

His legacy also will be tied to the child sexual abuse scandals in the American Church, both his championing of a “zero tolerance” policy and allegations that he failed to apply that policy himself in a high-profile Chicago case.

Read it all.

Commonweal has full video of George’s last homily.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of USCCB, has released a statement:

“The death of an exemplary churchman such as Cardinal Francis George brings much sadness at a time of joy and resurrection. We find peace in knowing that, after so much suffering, he has been raised up with our Lord. As archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Cardinal George led as a kindly servant and unmatched intellectual, a man who encouraged everyone to see how God makes us all brother and sister to one another. I join with my brother bishops in thanking God for the gift of his witness and invite all to pray for the faithful repose of his soul.”

Here is the meme I mentioned,

created by Patrick Thornton at Word on Fire

 

Complete Article HERE!

Pope will make mark on US church through Chicago

When he turned 75, Cardinal Francis George did what the Roman Catholic Church expects of its bishops. He submitted his resignation so the pope could decide how much longer the cardinal would serve.

George said he hoped Pope Benedict XVI would keep him on as Chicago archbishop for two or three more years. “But, it’s up to him, finally,” George told WLS-TV in Chicago.

cardinalgeorgeTwo years and one surprise papal retirement later, the decision now belongs to Pope Francis. The pontiff’s choice will be closely watched as his first major appointment in the U.S., and the clearest indication yet of the direction he will steer American church leaders.

“Many signals for this relationship between the pontificate and the U.S. church will come from Chicago,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota who studies the Vatican and the papacy. “I think this is going to be the most important decision by Pope Francis for the U.S. church.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million parishioners and is the third-largest diocese in the country. The Chicago church has long been considered a flagship of American Catholicism, sparking lay movements of national influence and producing archbishops who shape national debate. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin remains a hero to Catholics who place equal importance on issues such as abortion and poverty. George, who succeeded Bernadin in 1997, is especially admired in the church’s conservative wing as an intellectual who helped lead the bishops’ fight against the Obama administration’s health care overhaul.

Whoever Francis appoints as archbishop is expected to become a cardinal and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

George celebrated 50 years as a priest last December with a Mass at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral that drew bishops from across the country. In January, he turned 77, having recently been treated for a second bout with cancer. But the process of choosing his successor is confidential, so it’s not known how much longer he’ll serve. George’s spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan, said in an email “it could be six months to a year before a change is announced.”

Last week, church records released in a settlement with victims raised new questions about how George responded to some abuse cases even after U.S. bishops pledged to keep all guilty clergy out of ministry. The revelations will intensify public scrutiny of the child protection record of George’s successor. But it’s unclear whether the disclosures would have any impact on the Vatican timeline to replace the archbishop.

With a few exceptions, American bishops who failed to quickly remove accused clergy have remained in office well after details became public. The only U.S. bishop ever convicted for mishandling a case, Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., remains on the job.

“It will increase the number of people who will ask that it be sooner rather than later,” Dennis Doyle, a University of Dayton theologian, said of the Chicago documents and George’s retirement. “Maybe this will hurry it along a little bit, but I don’t think by much.”

While Francis has been famously breaking protocol since the night he was elected, there are some limits to how unconventional he can be with the Chicago assignment. He’ll be choosing among bishops elevated by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as lieutenants in their campaign to restore orthodoxy. Since his election last March, Francis has argued that the church has been driving away the faithful by emphasizing divisive social issues over compassion and mercy.

Still, in temperament and outlook, the current bishops are hardly carbon copies of the former popes or each other, giving Francis a broader field of candidates than their histories suggest, Doyle said.

“There’s quite a bit of diversity,” Doyle said. “I think they’ve done a very good job not displaying that. I think they decided they’d show a unified face in public.”

These differences came into view last December, when Francis changed the makeup of the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office that evaluates and nominates candidates for bishop worldwide. Francis added Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who is considered a moderate, while letting go Cardinal Raymond Burke, the outspoken conservative and former St. Louis archbishop. Burke had banned Communion for Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, and said the Democrats risked becoming a “party of death.” He is head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest Vatican court, but his seat on the Congregation for Bishops was what gave him direct influence on appointments.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,” categorizes the 260 or so active bishops this way: very few liberals, about 30 moderates, and the rest conservatives. Yet, he splits conservatives into two groups: ideological conservatives, who he argues would be unlikely to adopt Francis’ gentler tone, and pastoral conservatives.

“Pastoral conservatives are churchmen in the good sense of the word. They’re loyal. They grew up in conservative families. They had a conservative education in the seminary. They’re trained to be loyal to the pope. Now we’ve got a new pope,” said Reese, an analyst with the National Catholic Reporter. “I think these people will eventually come over to Francis and his way of approaching things.”

The vetting will begin, unannounced and behind closed doors, from Washington, as the pope’s U.S. ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, consults with U.S. cardinals and archbishops to choose three nominees. Vigano will write a dossier on each candidate, rank them, then submit the names to the Congregation for Bishops. If the congregation approves, the names will be forwarded to the pope, who can choose from among the three men — or appoint someone else entirely.

Since Francis is less familiar with the U.S. compared to many other nations, he will likely rely more heavily on the advice of U.S. cardinals and others, Faggioli said. Francis is also aware he must tread carefully because of polarization in the U.S. church, Faggioli said. Some U.S. Catholics who had embraced the focus on doctrine under John Paul and Benedict have been alarmed by Francis’ criticism that the church is obsessed with “small-minded rules.”

Still, Francis has shown little hesitation so far to go his own way.

“Everybody is going to look and know that this is Francis’ guy,” Reese said. “This is Francis’ choice.”

Complete Article HERE!