Diocese Invites Scandal

Pal Beach Post
November 12, 2006

The Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach and Bishop Gerald Barbarito have a long way to go to deliver on the promises of transparency and accountability made to parishioners who have witnessed too much scandal in recent years.

After two priests were accused of mishandling more than $8.6 million from a Delray Beach parish, Bishop Barbarito said the diocese would strengthen regulations and oversight to restore its credibility. But prosecutors barely had finished filing grand-theft charges against the Revs. John Skehan and Francis Guinan when allegations of similar abuses surfaced in Stuart. Parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church say the diocese ignored them when they complained about how the Rev. Chris Allen was handling the church's money.

In 2004, Dave Schoonover and a group of other St. Joseph's parishioners told the bishop's vicar general, Rev. Charles Notabartolo, that they were concerned about Allen's spending. Mr. Schoonover collected evidence indicating that the priest was spending at least three times his salary. Allen ordered a bookkeeper to set aside cash for his personal account and made regular $2,000 deposits into it. Rev. Notabartolo dismissed the claims with a familiar dodge: Parish priests control the parish coffers.

After being ignored on the financial complaint, Mr. Schoonover gave the diocese evidence of Allen's purchases of sex toys and adult videos. Only then did Rev. Notabartolo confront Allen, who quickly resigned.

State prosecutors tried to make a case against Allen over the missing money but got no help from the diocese. A diocesan spokeswoman rejected comparisons between the Delray Beach cases at St. Vincent Ferrer and the problems in Stuart. In fact, the similarities are striking. Neither parish involved lay people enough in church business. Parishioners deserve oversight of finances and input about spending. In both cases, the diocese ignored the faithful until forced to listen.

The Catholic Church's penchant for institutional secrecy creates a fertile atmosphere for such offenses. As with the church's sexual abuse scandals, financial abuses could have been prevented with more openness and cooperation with law enforcement.

Parishioners have heard a lot about transparency from the diocese. It's time they see it.


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