Darien Parish Still Healing after Financial Scandal

By Donna Porstner
The Advocate
December 31, 2006,0,6230647.story?

Darien - The pastor of one of the richest churches in Fairfield County made headlines in May when he was brought down by accusations he stole from the church coffers to wine and dine his wedding planner boyfriend.

The scandal, which unraveled when the parish fell behind on bills, forced the Rev. Michael Jude Fay to resign as pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien.

Another priest in the parish and the church bookkeeper blew the whistle on Fay's wild spending habits. A private eye hired by the Rev. Michael Madden and bookkeeper Bethany D'Erario said he documented that Fay racked up more than $200,000 on his parish credit card for airline tickets, limousine rides, designer clothing, alcohol and dinners at elite restaurants. Many of the purchases were made in Florida, where Fay owns a luxury condominium with Cliff Fantini, and in Philadelphia, where Fantini runs a wedding planning business under the name Cliff Martell.

Fay and Fantini, both 55, did not hide their relationship - at least in Philadelphia - where they posed as a couple for Philadelphia Style magazine, answering the question, "Where was your most romantic Philadelphia dining experience?"

Their relationship went public locally in May when the private investigator, Vito Colucci of Stamford, took his findings to the Darien police, which contacted the FBI.

The case is still under investigation, and no charges have been pressed against Fay.

Fay's whereabouts are unknown. The diocese says its communication with him has been through his attorney, James Wade.

Bishop William Lori of the Bridgeport Diocese, who said he had been reviewing Fay's suitability for the priesthood for some time, promptly called for his resignation.

Many parishioners said they felt duped because they thought Fay's absences were related to his treatment for prostate cancer.

An audit commissioned by the diocese later found Fay improperly spent about $1.4 million over six years, buying furniture, Cartier jewelry and other luxury items.

Fay was the pastor of St. John for 15 years and served on the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board.

After Madden admitted May 23 that he and D'Erario were behind the investigation, nearly 200 St. John parishioners, who feared the bishop would remove Madden, gathered for an impromptu rally on the grounds of the Post Road church. Madden apologized for hiring the private eye, and Lori stripped him from the administrative duties he had been assigned days earlier after Fay's resignation. Parishioners expressed anger at the bishop for making Madden the center of the controversy and were confrontational when he tried to address them that evening.

Madden was allowed to remain in the parish but left the priesthood without warning in August. By that time, D'Erario had quit her bookkeeping job and moved out of state.

Norm Walker, chief financial officer for the diocese, said in December the diocese was seeking restitution from Fay and hoped to gain some of the proceeds from the sale of the condo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that Fay purchased with Fantini for $449,100 in April 2005.


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