Diocese Names New Priest for Darien Church

By Stephen P. Clark
The Advocate
November 11, 2006

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport has assigned a new priest to replace the Rev. Michael Madden, who resigned in August from St. John Church in Darien after helping expose his boss for allegedly stealing more than $1 million from the parish.

The Rev. Christopher Samele, 56, started his new assignment as parochial vicar at the parish Oct. 20.

Since his ordination in 2003 by Bishop William Lori, Samele has served as parochial vicar of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Fairfield.

In his new assignment, Samele will help the Rev. Frank McGrath, who replaced the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, pick up the pieces at the parish.

"We're in the healing process," said Samele, who added that he will be there for parishioners in their time of need. "I'm just here to be a minister."

Although he has only three years of experience as a priest, Samele said that his background as an educator for 25 years will serve him well.

"I'm a big community man," he said. "We're working together."

McGrath called Samele a good priest and a hard worker who loves his job, the church and parishioners. "We're very happy to have him," he said.

Joseph McAleer, spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said in a statement that Samele has demonstrated "dedication, holiness, compassion, fidelity and a genuine desire to serve the people of God" in his three years as a diocesan priest.

"He will be a blessing to the St. John Parish community," the statement said.

The church was rocked by a scandal that came to light earlier this year when Madden and the church bookkeeper hired a private investigator to inspect the spending habits of Fay, which led to an FBI investigation. Fay has not been charged.

The private investigator said Fay spent at least $200,000 on airline tickets, fancy dinners, limousine rides and gifts for himself and another man, Philadelphia wedding planner Cliff Fantini. Fay was forced to resign in May.

An audit commissioned by the Bridgeport Diocese found that $1.4 million in church funds were missing.

Lori has said Madden and the former church bookkeeper, Bethany D'Erario, should not have taken the matter outside the diocese.

In May, Lori's office released a statement with an apology from Madden and his signature at the bottom.

But Madden, who was a priest for 11 years and parochial vicar at St. John for four years, told the Darien Times after he resigned that he is not apologetic.

"My conscience has always been clear as far as my actions go, because I know that I have tried to do right by the people the bishop entrusted to my care, and as the evidence clearly shows, nobody else was looking out for them or Fay wouldn't have been able to have carried on for all these years," Madden, who also left the priesthood, told the weekly newspaper.

In his first week on the job, Samele said no parishioner has mentioned Fay or Madden.

"That is surprising," he said. "It's been 51Ú2 months. I think they're past the anger, and now they're working together to heal."

Samele said he has not talked to Madden since taking over his job. They've met only once at a previous assignment, he said, adding that he doesn't know him personally.

"Father Madden served the people well in his time as a priest," Samele said. "Now I am here."


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