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  Audit: Priest Didn't Steal

By Rachel Harris
Palm Beach Post [Stuart FL]
October 11, 2004

STUART The longtime pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church who left abruptly in August did not steal from the parish or commit fraud, an independent audit has found.

But the Palm Beach Diocese still is investigating whether the Rev. Alden Christopher Allen, 52, misappropriated church money to build an addition to his home and to buy gay pornographic movies and sex toys, the acting pastor, the Rev. Gavin Badway, told parishioners Sunday.

Just two months after church leaders said Allen had left on sabbatical, Badway told people attending Mass that the parish is "at the middle of a battle" to learn the truth about Allen's alleged misdeeds, which have been "aired in newspapers for the whole world to see.""I am not defending him, but neither will I condemn him," Badway said. "There is still no clear evidence, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Father Chris stole money."

The state attorney's office started investigating Allen in January after longtime St. Joseph parishioner David Schoonover of Palm City supplied prosecutors with documents and receipts for online purchases that he obtained from garbage bins at the church and the pastor's home.

Investigators told church officials they felt the priest was "living beyond his means," paying average monthly credit card bills of about $5,000 since early 2002. Among the purchases: body-piercing rings, tattoo lotions and pornographic DVDs.

Allen's base salary in 2002 was $26,400, records show.

But the probe ended after investigators met with diocesan officials and learned that church laws give the local pastor full control over money collected from parishioners.

An independent auditing firm the church hired found no evidence of fraud or theft, Badway said.

But an ongoing investigation is looking at whether Allen may have misappropriated church donations.

Badway mentioned little about the credit card and eBay records showing that Allen had shopped online for sex toys.

"No one wants their human weaknesses exposed outside of the confessional," Badway said, adding that "priests are as much sinners as anyone else. That is why Jesus said, 'Do as they say, but do not follow their example.' "

Badway asked parishioners to reserve judgment and asked them to pray for Allen and the church's next pastor, the Rev. Noel McGrath, 48, a native of Ireland who is now associate pastor at St. Sebastian Church in Sebastian.

He will become pastor at St. Joseph Oct. 27.

Parishioners applauded after Badway's speech, and many said they were indifferent to the allegations against Allen.

"It's not my business," said William Rainbird Jackson, 78. "If someone else did something wrong, that's between him and God."

 
 

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