Priest Explains Resignation: Madden Says He 'Tried to Do Right by the People'

By Angela Carella
The Advocate [Darien CT]
September 1, 2006

The Catholic priest who blew the whistle on his boss, a former pastor accused of stealing more than $1 million from St. John's church in Darien, said "something died" in him the day the bishop had him apologize for hiring a private investigator to review the parish books.

The Rev. Michael Madden, who resigned from the parish Tuesday and left the priesthood, told the Darien Times he does not believe he betrayed the Bridgeport Diocese by asking the private eye to investigate the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, who was pastor of St. John's for 15 years.

"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, 45, told the weekly newspaper in an interview published yesterday.

Bishop William Lori has said Madden and the former church bookkeeper, Bethany D'Erario, should not have taken the matter outside the diocese. Lori's office sent out a statement in May with an apology from Madden, with Madden's signature at the bottom.

But Madden told the weekly newspaper that he has no apology. When Lori took Madden to St. John's for a meeting on May 23, the day the apology was issued, the parishioners shouted at the bishop for trying to punish Madden.

The meeting was "devastating," Madden told the newspaper, but the parishioners "all started clapping, then I saw the kids (and) that changed everything for me."

Some of the parishioners said they did not believe that Madden wrote the apology. Madden has not said publicly whether he or the diocese wrote the letter.

"People should always keep their eyes fixed on Christ and not be distracted by the human actions of his representatives. The Lord somehow managed to establish his church without lawyers and to disseminate his gospel without spin. Unfortunately, so much seems to have changed," Madden told the Darien Times.

Madden, who was a priest for 11 years and parochial vicar at St. John's for four years, could not be reached for comment because his whereabouts are unknown. A message left at his parents' house was not returned.

Joseph McAleer, spokesman for the diocese, said a report by its auditor, Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, showed that the diocese removed Fay's financial authority as soon as Madden and D'Erario raised the problem. A report looking at six years of parish records found that Fay misspent $1.4 million, much of it on his relationship with Clifford Fantini, a Philadelphia wedding planner.

The FBI and U.S. attorney's office are investigating the case.

Madden knew the diocese was taking action, McAleer said, but went to the private investigator anyway.

"Father Madden and Ms. D'Erario were asked if they knew who hired the private investigator, and they said no," McAleer said. "Then at a Mass (on May 23) he told the parishioners that he and the bookkeeper were the ones who did it, and said it was because he did not trust the bishop."

It was unfair for Madden to denounce the bishop, who handled the problem as soon as Madden brought it to him, McAleer said.

"If Father Madden had brought this to the attention of the diocese sooner, the diocese would have acted. It is not proper behavior to not tell the bishop the truth, then say disparaging things about him," McAleer said. "The bishop forgave Madden, mindful of the good work he did in his parish, and allowed him to remain in the parish. I strongly resent any claim that the church spins . . . that the church is not open, honest and transparent."

Asked whether the diocese wrote the apology letter signed by Madden, McAleer said, "I'm not going to comment on that."

According to the Deloitte report, Lori met with Madden on April 28, and parish accounts were frozen over the next four days. Lori removed Fay as signatory on parish bank accounts during that time but did not remove Fay as pastor of St. John's until May 17, the day the private investigator, Vito Colucci of Stamford, took his findings to police.

D'Erario has said that, after she and Madden met with diocesan officials April 28, Lori summoned Fay to Bridgeport on May 9, then let him fly back to his vacation home in Florida the same day. She and Madden assumed that meant that the diocese would not discipline Fay, and hired Colucci on May 10, D'Erario has said.

D'Erario quit her job early last month and moved out of state with her husband and child.

Twice Lori convened the College of Consultors, 12 priests who are summoned when a bishop has an important decision to make, said Monsignor William Scheyd, pastor of St. Aloysius in New Canaan. He and the other consultors met May 9 -- the day Lori summoned Fay -- and May 22 -- the day Deloitte began its audit, Scheyd said.

Asked why the diocese did not know that money was missing from St. John's, which D'Erario has said failed to make its payments to Bridgeport for months, Scheyd said, "The diocese cut Father Fay some slack, based on compassion."

Fay had prostate cancer, Scheyd said, and Fay told diocesan officials that St. John's finances were in disarray because he could not give them his full attention.

Fay could not be reached for comment because his whereabouts are unknown.

Fay told the Darien Times that, against the advice of his lawyers, he wanted to speak about his relationship with Fantini. They are "just friends," Fay told the newspaper.

"It has been blown way out of proportion, and the judgments that have been made about that are disgraceful," Fay told the newspaper. "I have many good friends, and he has been the one who has helped me with my disease and its horrible physical problems."

His prostate cancer is advanced and spread to his bones, Fay told the newspaper.

"There was never any homosexual activity or salacious parties in the rectory," Fay told the newspaper, saying he doesn't know why Madden said it happened.

In response, Madden told the newspaper that media outlets that attributed that accusation to him did not hear it from him, but things "went on" at the parish and "it was not a product of my imagination."

In July, The Advocate published a photograph of Fay and Fantini that ran in "Philadelphia Style" magazine's Valentine's Day edition, in which they noted their "most romantic Philadelphia dining experience." The same issue features a $1,600 advertisement, paid for with a St. John's credit card, for Fantini's wedding business.

"What was going on in the house, that was my problem. But the financial stuff, that was the people's problem, and that I could do something about," Madden told the Darien newspaper.

Parishioners contacted yesterday said they want to attend a meeting slated for 7:30 tonight at St. John's. The new pastor, the Rev. Frank McGrath, called the meeting to talk about Madden's decision to leave the parish and the priesthood, since so many are upset by it. Lori will not be there, McAleer said.

"There is no question that Father Mike helped us by doing what he did," said Cynthia Ashburne, a parishioner for a dozen years. "It's a shame the focus turned on him instead of Father Jude. I think Father Mike was beaten down. I saw him after he returned from the meeting with the bishop (May 23) and he was almost unrecognizable; he looked like he'd been destroyed."

She said she believes Madden "got fed up with the hierarchy of the Catholic church, like I am."

"The whole thing probably would have been swept under the rug if he had not done what he did," Ashburne said. "How could they allow Father Jude to walk out of Bridgeport and fly back to Florida? Why not send him to Darien immediately to go over the books with the diocese financial people? I blame the diocese, the bureaucracy. They can't allow this shroud of secrecy any more. Now look what we've lost -- one of the good guys. They don't survive."

Allison Dolcetti said she and her husband, Phillip, loved Madden.

"It's a sin he is gone," she said. "He touched so many hearts. The children loved him."

But they are grateful to have McGrath.

"Father McGrath listens. He's a gentle man. He brings a spirituality, and he will teach us."

St. John's has learned a lesson that will not be lost on other parishes, her husband said.

"The million-dollar question is, if Father Mike had left this in the diocese's hands, would the FBI be investigating now? I don't know. Father Mike obviously didn't think so," Phillip Dolcetti said. "That's what has happened in the past with thievery, with pedophiles, in other churches. I think Father Mike just wanted to make sure it would be taken care of here. I thank God for that. I feel he did the right thing. We are very aware now.

"We will be watching what the diocese does next. We won't be fooled again," he said.


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