Defense lawyer argues for dismissal of an indictment relating to a million dollars said to have been diverted by a parish priest for the support of his secret family forty miles away from his parishes in rural Virginia.
The Free Lance Star newspaper in Fredericksburg, Virginia (Ellen Biltz) reports that the attorney defending Rev. Rodney Lee Rodis has filed a motion to dismiss the case, because the alleged embezzlement of a million dollars is an internal church matter. Prosecution attorneys doubt that the First Amendment provides immunity from a criminal investigation.
The case was first reported by the Washington Post back in January (Candace Rondeaux). In the early 1990s, Rev. Rodis, a native of the Philippines, had turned around the parishes of Immaculate Conception in Buckner and St. Jude in Mineral, Virginia, in Louisa County. But at the same time, he maintained a home in Fredericksburg, about 40 miles away, with a wife and three children. Neighbors there thought he was in the import-export business. The story in the Catholic Virginian (Steve Neill) adds that the house in Fredericksburg was purchased in 1994.
The indictment stems from the claim that Rev. Rodis opened up a secret account at the Virginia Heartland Bank in Fredericksburg and used it for depositing checks intended for the churches, which he used to support his other family. The diversion came to light in June, 2006 when a parishioner sought a receipt for a $1,000 donation by check and then found out that the check had been deposited into the Fredericksburg account. After that, the police got involved and found that the total of checks passed $600,000.
Parishioners who requested a tax statement got one, but only after the diversion came to light did people notice that the checks had been deposited to the Fredericksburg bank.
At least one of the parishes (St. Jude's) has now instituted controls on the collection: tamper-proof collection bags, a safe that requires two keys to open, three counters on Sunday rather than just two, and immediate depositing of both cash and checks. The advice was offered to check one's annual giving statement, but in this case the statements showed the donations—one needed to see where the check was deposited to catch the diversion (and very few have that option now that banks retain checks).
The inadequacy of fiscal controls in Catholic archdioceses was on my list of the twenty most important charity stories of 2006, and early in the year we reported on a survey of dioceses that showed how widespread the problems are. As long as supervision of parish priests continues to be so lax, these kind of incidents will continue to occur.