The following comes from a December 22 Crux article by Michael O’Loughlin:
Behind the sensational headlines about a New York priest accused of pilfering church coffers to pay for an extravagant lifestyle – “Priest paid his male ‘sex master’ from collection plate: lawsuit,” as the New York Post put it — is the surprisingly common accusation of a trusted employee or volunteer stealing cash from a parish.
The Rev. Peter Miqueli stepped down as pastor of St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx Dec. 13 after a group of parishioners filed a lawsuit against him and the Archdiocese of New York. They say the priest embezzled close to a million dollars over the last decade from two parishes, and that the archdiocese refused to take their accusations seriously.
Miqueli says he is not guilty.
“I look forward to my ultimate vindication, and being able to resume my priestly ministry,” he wrote in a letter read at Masses earlier this month.
Miqueli’s case is tailor made for tabloid coverage, but it’s hardly unique. This year alone, a number of high-profile embezzlement cases involving Catholic institutions have been made public. While the reporting to civil authorities has increased, resulting in more publicity about such cases, one thing hasn’t changed: Pastors are too trusting and unwilling to implement strict financial controls.
In California, a mother stands accused of embezzling more than $400,000 from a Catholic grade school to pay for expensive clothes and tuition for her children. Adela Maria Tapia faces up to 14 years in prison for her alleged theft, which authorities say she used to pay off $60,000 in credit card debt by stealing from a school fundraising program she oversaw for a number of years.
That, and other recent cases in Ohio and Michigan, are hardly isolated. A 2007 survey by Villanova University found that 85 percent of Catholic dioceses in the United States had reported financial misconduct in the previous five years, and the author of that study said he doesn’t think the situation has improved much.
Canon law requires that parishes have financial councils, and Charles Zech, the director of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University, found in 2010 that 93 percent of US parishes report having such bodies. But the quality varies greatly, he said, sometimes just rubber-stamping whatever the priest presents, he said.
“They just go along with what Father wants,” he said.