September 30, 2006

$8 Million Stolen From Parish -- Michael
— Ace

By two priests.

By Jim Loney
16 minutes ago


MIAMI (Reuters) - Two Roman Catholic priests allegedly misappropriated more than $8 million from their church and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends, police in Florida said on Friday.

The retired priests were accused of skimming cash from collection plates and bequests to the St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Florida, over a period of years and channeling the money into secret "slush funds" they used to pay personal bills, Delray Beach police said.

Of course it's a shock that two priests would steal from their church.

The bigger shock is that the were able to pull it off. How the heck does $8 million disappear from a single church before someone notices? The priests are not the entire problem here. Someone was not minding the congregation's business.

Actually, I'm not that surprised. My career has moved me around the country, and I've had the opportunity to be a member of a number of churches. I've held various offices on occasion, including jobs as the congregational Treasurer and as the Chairman of the Finance Committee.

Every congregation is different, but they all have one thing in common -- their internal financial controls suck. Not one of them could pass the kind of audit conducted pursuant to the standards applicable to a business of comparable size.

Why are churches so lax? I think it's just the atmosophere of a church. The usual financial controls employed by businesses seem unnecessary when everyone is a brother or sister in Christ, and so trusts each other.

Unfortunately, the works of the Holy Spirit do not include excusing us from the consequences of ignoring GAAP.

Some of the misappropriated funds may have benefited the church, Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer said.

"They were skimming cash out of the offering plates and other donations that came into the church," he said. "They were spending some on church projects and they were spending a lot on themselves, for vacations, buying properties, gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas, and alleged girlfriends."

"We can prove several hundred thousand has been spent on personal use by each of them. They may have done some good for the church," Messer said, adding that a church audit covered more than four decades that Skehan served at the church.

Priests accused in $8 million church theft

Posted by: Ace at 04:48 AM | Comments (26)
Post contains 419 words, total size 3 kb.

1 Anyone remember Dante's Inferno? Wasn't there a particular circle of Hell reserved for this kind of thing?

Posted by: Squid Vicious at September 30, 2006 05:03 AM (vX+Fw)

2 Well I at least am happy they were girlfriends.

Posted by: pajama momma at September 30, 2006 05:18 AM (+Aq+d)

3 I'm hoping Ace was being sarcastic in his remark:

"Of course it's a shock that two priests would steal from their church."

Posted by: Jason at September 30, 2006 05:40 AM (ZEF05)

4 Ooops, I mean Michael.

Posted by: Jason at September 30, 2006 05:40 AM (ZEF05)

5 I'm hoping Ace was being sarcastic in his remark:

"Of course it's a shock that two priests would steal from their church."


I'm sure you were being sarcastic in your comment as well. With the amount of Catholic churches around the percentage of Catholic priests misbehaving is really low.

Posted by: pajama momma at September 30, 2006 05:43 AM (+Aq+d)

6

Nope, not sarcastic at all.  Of course there are some bad apples in every barrel, and we all know that pastors are still fallible human beings, but it still makes me wince when people who have dedicated their lives to the service of God are caught doing something this bad. My point is the "bad priests" is only half the story; "bad congregational management practices" is the other half that nobody pays attention to.


The article indicates that the priests' propensity for gambling/drinking/etc. was known.  It's incredible that this went on for 40 years before somebody started digging into how this lifestyle was funded.


Posted by: Michael at September 30, 2006 05:48 AM (LPlsm)

7 My brother was a caretaker at a Catholic church in San Diego.
The pastor there was waaay gay and everyone knows it and he was driving the place into the ground.
It was very frustrating to see this man running the place and nothing being done. I guess the people wanted to look the other way. It was in a rather well to do neighborhood and the congregation was a little more liberal than most.
My brother found a book in the priest's house about meeting gay men in Europe, nice huh?

But still, I think (I hope and pray) that it's rare. I'm in Florida now and am pretty stoked with the priests out here.

Posted by: pajama momma at September 30, 2006 05:53 AM (+Aq+d)

8 GAAP ?

Posted by: franksalterego at September 30, 2006 06:08 AM (uK0Vd)

9 I'm Lutheran, by the way, not Catholic, but I'm certainly not inclined to sneer at Catholics about the problem of corrupt clergy. I have personally bumped into too many cases of Lutheran pastors who are thieves, closeted and practicing homosexuals, alcoholics, abusive towards their spouses, sexist, etc. to think that the problem of seriously flawed clerics is unique to any denomination. Not to mention heresy; I've personally presided over a heresy trial many years ago. That was pretty interesting.

Posted by: Michael at September 30, 2006 06:09 AM (LPlsm)

10 Thanks for not hatin on us Catholics, Michael.

I do agree that corruption is rampant, both morally and fiscally in the Catholic Church, but it's certainly not limited to us.

Posted by: kevlarchick at September 30, 2006 06:14 AM (otuOL)

11 Why are churches so lax? I think it's just the atmosophere of a church. The usual financial controls employed by businesses seem unnecessary when everyone is a brother or sister in Christ, and so trusts each other.

It's also an open invitation to crooks, theives, and bandits, who have no principles.

And, of course, it would be easy to make a corollary...If you get my drift...heh

Posted by: franksalterego at September 30, 2006 06:25 AM (uK0Vd)

12 KC, I didn't say I don't hate Catholics. I'm Lutheran, for Pete's sake! This just isn't the right excuse for hatin' Catholics.



GAAP ?

Sorry for the jargon. GAAP (pronounced just like "gap") is the term universally used in the business world for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. It is sort of the "common law" of accounting that derives from several sources, especially the Financial Accounting Standards Board (nomally just called FASB, pronounced "fasbee").

Posted by: Michael at September 30, 2006 06:33 AM (LPlsm)

13 GAAP?

GAAP = Generally Accepted Accounting Principles


My first guess would be that they skimmed from the collection receipts before the cash was initially recorded in the accounting system. If they were smart, revenue trends could be maintained so questions might not be asked. Besides establishing an effective internal control over receipts between collection and deposit is likely to be very costly in volunteer man hours, and volunteer time is limited in any non-profit and most clerics are not trained as CPAs ...

Posted by: Mike O'Malley at September 30, 2006 06:37 AM (gzscW)

14

A lot of congregations do not allow the clergy to handle plate receipts (and they don't want to).  A Financial Secretary (who is separate from the Treasurer)  organizes a group of counters (always more than one) who are responsible for tallying the offerings after the service and (if given in a numbered envelope) recording them in individual member accounts for tax purposes.  They also make the bank deposit on Monday with receipts in a bag that is locked before it leaves the church and unlocked by the bank, which reconciles their count with the deposit slip.  This is routine Sunday morning business, just like somebody has to organize the usher teams.


Letting the pastor or the Treasurer handle receipts is just foolish (I've been a member of a congregation where the Treasurer embezzled funds in an attempt to save his business).


Posted by: Michael at September 30, 2006 06:56 AM (LPlsm)

15 We had a guy that probably skimmed hundreds of thousands in bingo money at our parish over the years. And yes I know, gambling in the temple, its not my policy, and I think bingo is going to be made a sacrament soon for the over 60 crowd. We had a guy back in high school that stole probably tens of thousands, maybe even a 100k worth in concession stand money.

Not to mention how clueless some priests are in handling funds to begin with. Priests should be required to learn basic fund management to watch this and learn to handle money, and churches should have overseeing commitees. It is a real problem, and a few hundred k might not seem like much to some, but this is a fairly low cost of living area, least compared to big cities, and here its big bucks.

Posted by: Sinistar at September 30, 2006 07:37 AM (jhhLS)

16 The local news said the skimming occured over a span of 40 years. Apparently this was one of the larger congregations down here.

Even so, that still averages out to $200K/yr - just under $4K/month - $1K/week/

Man, that's HEAVY dip. This is what happens when people get greedy.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at September 30, 2006 07:47 AM (8uDDG)

17 PA, I'd bet anything they started off small and kept it small for many years.  You know, just an occasional "loan" to make ends meet.  Then it just kept growing and growing when they realized that nobody was paying attention at all, so that the numbers were probably pretty big when the scam ended.  That's speculation on my part, but my impression is that embezzlers usually start small and then get hooked when it seems so easy to take a little more every time.

Posted by: Michael at September 30, 2006 07:58 AM (LPlsm)

18

Jeez Louise, I sure hope that our screening processes for prospective priests have improved in recent years. I hate hearing stories like this.


I realize that there is always going to be a small percentage of corrupt clergy, (in any denomination), but it needs to be even smaller.


Posted by: Nice Deb at September 30, 2006 08:17 AM (9ftXk)

19 Yeah, most dioceses require lay oversight of the funds...but there are ways to get around this, of course. As mentioned, it might not be that difficult to skim cash out of the collection before the official count is done on Monday (which is generally the day the weekly collections are counted).

Now if it involved taking money out of the parish bank account itself, then that means the parish council oversight was extremely lacking. Someone other than the church staff should be checking the bank accounts for transactions.

Posted by: meep at September 30, 2006 09:40 AM (UJPBc)

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