Greek Orthodox church settles sexual assault claim

Author: Ron Word, The Associated Press
Date Published: 05/08/2009

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man who claims he was sexually assaulted by a suspended Jacksonville priest as a teenager has settled his lawsuit with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

The church reported the settlement on its Web site Thursday and said there was no finding of fault or liability against it. The church said the terms of the settlement remain confidential.

The archdiocese’s statement notes the September 2007 lawsuit was based on allegations of inappropriate behavior of the Very Rev. Nicholas Graff while he served as priest of St. John the Divine Church in Jacksonville. Graff has been suspended since June 2007 and has been prohibited ”from acting in any pastoral, administrative or other official capacity within the Orthodox Church.”

Graff, the church and the archdiocese in New York were sued in 2007 by a man, now 23, and his family. Neither the man nor his family is identified in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that when the man was a teen, Graff exhibited obsessive and inappropriate interest in him, gave him gifts including a car and $500 a month, induced him to move into the priest’s home and engaged in sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit also claimed that in 2003 Graff offered the man’s mother $300,000 to surrender her parental rights in an attempt to adopt him, but his mother refused.

Helen Spohrer, the family’s attorney, said she could not talk about the confidential settlement.

”Our clients are very pleased that this has been resolved,” she said Friday.

Graff’s attorney, Thomas Fallis said the priest was not involved in the settlement between the archdiocese and the family.

Graff was dismissed as a defendant in January when the local church reached a settlement.

”We have denied any liability and there has not been any liability found. He has been dismissed from the case,” Fallis said. ”He would have preferred to have a trial and vindicate his name.” Fallis added that no archdiocese funds were spent on Graff’s behalf.

Charles Pillans, a Jacksonville lawyer representing the archdiocese in the settlement talks, said a public announcement of Graff’s suspension was a part of the settlement, although it was already known by church members.

Stavros Papagermanos, a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, said he could not comment beyond the the statement.

He said the suspension of Graff was indefinite.

”The suspension does not have an end time. Sometimes, it remains for years,” he said.

There was no answer at Nicholas Graff’s telephone number in Miami Beach.