Priest Who Admitted to Grand Larceny Still Receives Pay from Brooklyn Diocese

By Carol Eisenberg
Newsday [New York]
December 7, 2005

An Ozone Park pastor who pleaded guilty three years ago to stealing nearly $100,000 from his working-class parish to pay for trips to a gay resort, a time share in Mexico and a luxury car, still gets a monthly stipend from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

The Rev. John Thompson, who pled guilty to a felony charge of grand larceny in September 2002, said in a deposition last month that he continues to receive a check of about $1,700 a month from the church, although he's barred from presenting himself as a priest or celebrating Mass.

Thompson gave the deposition last month in connection with a $5 million lawsuit brought by Barbara Samide, the former principal of St. Elizabeth's School, who lost her job three years ago after she accused him of stealing from the parish and sexually abusing her. Samide sued Thompson, as well as the diocese, saying it failed to protect her. A judge later ordered the diocese to pay her for the duration of her contract, through August 2003.

"To me it's absolutely outrageous that he's getting paid," said Michael Dowd of Manhattan, Samide's attorney. "This is a guy who stole money from a poor parish. Barbara Samide didn't get any money when she reported him. The diocese put her on unpaid leave, and we were trying to raise money for her to feed her family."

Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, confirmed the payments, saying canon law requires that bishops support their priests -- even if they've been convicted of crimes.

"The bishop has a canonical responsibility to support a priest," DeRosa said. "He may be on administrative leave, but he's still a priest."

DeRosa said Thompson's stipend was less than what he would be receiving if he were still a pastor, though he declined to say by how much. He said no steps had been taken to laicize him.

Thompson avoided a jail sentence in September 2002, by entering a guilty plea to grand larceny and agreeing to pay back the parish. He said in his deposition that he went to work three months after the plea deal as a case manager for an agency that provides housing for the homeless in Harlem, where he now makes $41,000 a year.

Asked why the diocese was paying him when he earned another salary, DeRosa replied that the priest could lose that job "and be, essentially, destitute."

Still, the news rankled people in the pews who recalled how Thompson had stolen from the collection plate to pay for a lavish lifestyle.

"I don't see why they'd be paying a guy who stole from them," said Ed Wilson, the Brooklyn regional coordinator for the Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic reform group.

"If it were to be the case that this priest is being paid to get his cooperation in this lawsuit by the principal against the diocese, that would be outrageous and exactly the sort of coverup the Voice of the Faithful was formed to combat."

For his part, Dowd noted that Thompson had avoided jail only by agreeing to pay back all the money he had stolen. "But it looks like the diocese is paying him not only to keep him in line, but to facilitate the payment of the restitution. Why not put that money into St. Elizabeth's, which was a school in real financial trouble?"

Thompson denies that he sexually abused Samide, but has declined to submit to a DNA test requested by her attorney to determine whether his semen matches that found on one of her blouses.