For decades, South Carolina resident James C. Graham had been tormented by an inescapable feeling — his father seemed to deeply dislike him. This man’s remarkable quest for truth began in 1993, when his aging aunt and uncle confronted James with an obituary from a Catholic newsletter. They pointed to a sad, balding man who was listed of having died earlier that year and said “this priest may be your father.”
A Hunt for the Truth
Though Graham was struck by the similarities between this priest’s facial features and his own, he had nothing else to go on, as both this priest and his own mother were deceased. Nevertheless, he began hunting down documents and piecing together timelines from the two individuals. He learned that his mother had left her first husband and Graham’s two older sisters shortly after he was born, fleeing abruptly without telling anyone where she was going. At about the same time, this priest had also deserted the Catholic order, leaving no trace.
Graham began to suspect that his mother and this priest were trying to embark on a new life and raise their newborn son together. But their plans were destroyed when her enstranged husband hired private detectives and discovered the couple holed up in a Manhattan apartment. According to uncovered court testimony, Graham’s stepfather testified to bursting into the apartment and seeing his wife in bed with another man. This gave Graham’s stepfather the power to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and his two older half-sisters.
Graham’s mother married someone else and remained close to Graham, though she took the secret to her grave. Church records show that the priest rejoined the Catholic Priesthood and spent the remainder of his life doing menial tasks like translating religious texts before he also died without revealing the secret.
Still, Graham lacked conclusive proof of his true father. In a hail-mary attempt, he asked the Catholic Church for permission to exhume the priest’s body and conduct a DNA test. To his great surprise, the Church agreed, and the results were conclusive.
Graham now enters a little-known group of people secretly fathered by Catholic Priests who break their promise of celibacy. Because of the shame and secrecy surrounding this act, the true number of people like Graham will never be known, but it’s likely to number in the thousands. Thousands of children growing up without the love of a biological father, secretly feeling that something is wrong but unable to put their finger on what it is.
The Catholic Church, in an official statement, expressed pleasure that Graham finally has the answers he so long sought. But the Church has been criticized for failure to do more to uncover abuses and impropriety within the church.
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