Man struggling with substance abuse attacks priest with wine bottle, church officials say

Joshua August (left) allegedly beat the Rev. William Graney with a wine bottle, police said. A church official said Graney was counseling the 25-year-old suspect about his substance abuse issues. (Courtesy of New Castle County police and Resurrection Catholic Church.)

Joshua August (left) allegedly beat the Rev. William Graney with a wine bottle, police said. A church official said Graney was counseling the 25-year-old suspect about his substance abuse issues. (Courtesy of New Castle County police and Resurrection Catholic Church.)

A 25-year-old man beat the 74-year-old pastor of a Delaware church, poured wine on him and struck his head with the bottle, according to authorities and court records, in a dispute over “weed he wanted back.”

The Rev. William Graney, pastor of Resurrection Catholic Church in Pike Creek, was in stable condition at Christiana Hospital Tuesday, police said. But when officers arrived at the crime scene, Graney was “unable to speak” because of facial injuries,’’ court records said.

A church employee who tried to intervene in the attack was pushed to the ground, but she was not injured, police said.

Joshua August, who was arrested Monday shortly after the 2 p.m. attack, fled on a skateboard after church employees intervened during the assault. Sitting in the back of the police car, August told officers he “wanted to kill [Graney] and should have finished,’’ and “enjoyed” seeing the clergyman covered with blood, court records state.

The arrest affidavit did not elaborate on the “weed” that August wanted returned to him, and New Castle County police would not reveal more information, citing their ongoing investigation.

But Robert Krebs, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, said Graney had been trying to counsel August as he struggled with substance abuse issues.

“I know that father was trying to help him, counsel him and try to get him on the way to recovery,’’ Krebs said.

Despite his injuries, Graney is “in good spirits, and we’re hoping he’ll make a full recovery,” Krebs said.

The probable cause affidavit filed by police said a woman who works at the church heard an argument and the sound of “hitting” in Graney’s office Monday afternoon. She found August punching and kicking the priest in the face and abdominal area, police said. After she tried unsuccessfully to intervene, she saw August “spray a bottle of an unknown substance” into Graney’s mouth as he lay on the ground.

As she called 911, August grabbed a bottle of wine from another office. He poured the wine on Graney, then hit him in the head several times with the bottle, police said, causing the bottle to shatter. Police found fragments of glass in Graney’s face.

Employees convinced August to stop with the promise of money and a ride, police said, but when he got outside, they locked the doors. He broke the church’s glass door, and then he fled the scene on a skateboard, police said.

An officer spotted August nearby, and, after a brief struggle, he was taken into custody, the affidavit said.

August was charged with first- and third-degree assault, resisting arrest and criminal mischief and held on $52,500 secured bond.

Graney has been pastor at Resurrection since 2014. He grew up in Wilmington and has also been pastor in the diocese at St. Paul’s, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Michael the Archangel, according to The Dialog, the diocesan newspaper.

The attack has shaken diocesan officials, Krebs said.

“Any time violence is a factor in one of our churches, especially to one of our pastors, it’s very shocking and disturbing,’’ Krebs said.

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