Founded new parishes and ministries and embraced immigrants, but clergy abuse scandal marred legacy
By The Texas Catholic
Bishop Emeritus Charles V. Grahmann — who built parishes and schools and who embraced the burgeoning Catholic Hispanic growth in the Southwest, but whose tenure as Dallas bishop was marred by a clergy abuse scandal whose emotional and financial aftermath divided the diocese — died Tuesday, Aug. 14, at St. Luke Baptist Hospital in San Antonio during surgery. He was 87.
Bishop Edward J. Burns concelebrated the funeral Mass on Aug. 18 at Santa Clara of Assisi Catholic Church, one of the parish’s that Bishop Grahmann founded and where he wished the funeral Mass to be celebrated. Joining Bishop Burns were Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, and former auxiliary bishop of Dallas, and Dallas Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly.
Several family members traveled to Dallas for the services and members of the Neocatechumenal Way serenaded the casket into and out of the Santa Clara church and Bishop Burns led the priests and deacons in the Salve Regina before the casket was loaded into the funeral coach.
Other services for Bishop Grahmann, in keeping with his wishes, include those in the Archdiocese of San Antonio on Aug. 22, and a Mass and burial at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallettsville in his home Diocese of Victoria on Aug. 25.
The announcement of Bishop Grahmann’s death was made in Dallas on the evening of Aug. 14 when Bishop Burns called a news conference to discuss a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that detailed thousands of cases of sexual abuse by 300 clergy in six dioceses over a seven-decade period.
Bishop Grahmann was installed as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Dallas in 1990 after a long pastoral career in the Diocese of Victoria and the Archdiocese of San Antonio. He submitted his resignation in 2006 when he turned 75 and was replaced a year later by Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, then an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and now known as Cardinal Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life at the Vatican.
Bishop Burns said that Bishop Grahmann had celebrated Mass at Casa de Padres, a retirement home for clergy in San Antonio where he lived, on the morning of Aug. 14, and also received the Anointing of the Sick. Bishop Grahmann died during surgery to insert a stent.
“Bishop Grahmann was a man of deep faith,” Bishop Burns said. “During his tenure (in Dallas) he, too, shepherded this church during difficult days.”
Charles V. Grahmann was born to Nicholas and Annie Grahmann on July 15, 1931 in Hallettsville, a second generation Texan whose German ancestors had settled in Lavaca County, Texas. Life for him and his 10 siblings centered on working the soil and were embedded in Catholic Church activities.
He entered St. John’s Seminary in San Antonio in the eighth grade in 1945; he would learn Spanish, and his classmates would include other future Texas bishops, as well. It was also during his days as a seminarian that he began lifelong travels to Europe.
In 1955, Charles Grahmann and his classmates moved to the newly completed Assumption Seminary to complete philosophy and theology. On March 17, 1956, he and five others were ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Robert Emmet Lucey at San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio.
Father Grahmann’s first assignment was to predominately Hispanic St. James Parish in San Antonio. In September of 1956 he was reassigned to St. Joseph Parish in Yoakum, Texas. He also taught religion and Spanish in the parochial school and coached basketball and started a high school football team.
In 1961, he was moved to St. Paul Church in San Antonio and Archbishop Lucey later named him his personal secretary. During this time, Father Grahmann earned a Master’s Degree in Education and Counseling at Our Lady of the Lake University. When Archbishop Lucey retired in 1969, Father Grahmann continued his work at the chancery under Archbishop Francis J. Furey.
He spent a short time as Dean of Men at St. Mary’s Seminary, and was then named pastor of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church and made a monsignor. He also was the diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services and was instrumental in founding grassroots organizations that helped empower a growing, but impoverished Mexican-American community in San Antonio.
In 1979, Archbishop Furey died and was succeeded by Archbishop Patrick Flores, who named Msgr. Grahmann his vicar general.
Becoming a Bishop
In June 1981, Pope John Paul II named him auxiliary bishop of San Antonio and the first Bishop of Victoria, a new diocese created from parts of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, the Diocese of Corpus Christi and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the following year.
In advance of Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Antonio in September 1987, his brother bishops gave him the responsibility for raising and managing the millions of dollars in funds for the papal visit.
In 1989, he was named coadjutor to Dallas Bishop Thomas Tschoepe and succeeded him on July 15, 1990, the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Dallas by Pope Leo XIII.
In Dallas, Bishop Grahmann found a nine-county diocese with a Catholic population of 226,000, but one that was increasing due to migration from across the country and, particularly, from south of the border. Recognizing that a large part of the burgeoning Catholic population was due to immigration of Hispanic Catholics, Bishop Grahmann made the outreach to Hispanics a priority of his episcopacy. The key component of that effort was the establishment in West Oak Cliff of the Santa Clara of Assisi Parish near the adjacent Calumet Center, which is now known as the Cardinal Farrell Community Center. He also established parishes for Vietnamese and Chinese Catholics.
During his tenure, 14 parishes were established, some new and some created from missions. He also established the Catholic Conference and Formation Center in Oak Cliff and John Paul II High School in Plano. In 1992 the Pastoral Center was relocated to a larger building in an area now known as Uptown.
A major renovation of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe was completed to include a bell tower with carillon and a steeple, and other interior improvements.
Other major renovations were also completed at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving during his tenure and the Redemptorist Mater Seminary was established by the Neo-Catechumate movement. Bishop Grahmann also established regular dialogue with the heads of other religious denominations throughout Dallas.
But there is no erasing a dark shadow cast across the diocese during Bishop Grahmann’s tenure, one brought on by a sexual abuse scandal that pitted Catholics against Catholics; a jury verdict that cost the diocese millions of dollars; another jury verdict that brought life sentences for a pedophile priest; outcries and fallouts from the re-assignments of several priests, and what Catholic community and business leaders said was a diocese divided because Bishop Grahmann did not resign, even when a coadjutor for the Dallas diocese was named.
In July 1997, a Dallas County jury found the diocese liable for failing to act on years’ of warnings about Father Rudy Kos, accused of sexual misconduct with 11 altar boys, and for fraud and conspiracy to hide the priest’s crimes from parishioners and police. The diocese later reached an agreement with the victims for approximately $35.6 million, with the diocese paying approximately $11.6 million and insurance carriers paying the remainder.
In 1998, Kos was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of former altar boys and was sentenced to life in prison.
After the settlement, Bishop Grahmann apologized to the victims, their families and said “the decisions made concerning Rudy Kos were errors in human judgment. We accept the burden of the verdict.”
Bishop Grahmann later wrote of the events: “It was a painful and agonizing time for the victims and their families, for the church and for me personally. I have a deep sorrow in my heart that will never go away.”
In 2002, the U.S. bishops convened a conference in Dallas and adopted safeguards for the protection of children in Catholic schools and parishes.
In 2006, he turned 75 and submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI and was replaced the following year by Bishop Farrell, a native of Dublin, Ireland.
The Dallas Diocese is now home to more than 1 million Catholics.
In retirement, Bishop Grahmann spent time in Dallas and his home in Hallettsville and assisted with confirmations in Dallas and San Antonio. In 2012, when his health began to deteriorate, he retired to Casa de Padres, the retirement home for priests and brothers in San Antonio.
He was preceded in death by his parents and three sisters, Sister Anastasia, IWBS; Sister Sylvia, IWBS; and Rita Zaruba. He is survived by brothers Nicholas, Jr., Marcus, Jerome, Fred, and Brother Nicholas, FSC; as well as sisters Anita Spangle and Mary Ann Michalke. He has 25 nephews and nieces, grandnephews and nieces and two great-grand nephews.