Priest's Appearance in Court Is Short

By Bill Freehling
Free Lance-Star [Louisa VA]
January 19, 2007

Dozens of Catholic parishioners and numerous reporters filled three long rows of seats in Louisa County Circuit Court yesterday for an uneventful hearing in the case of Catholic priest Rodney Lee Rodis.

Rodis, 50, was before Judge Timothy K. Sanner to determine who will represent the priest on accusations that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from St. Jude and Immaculate Conception Catholic churches.

Walking with a cane, Rodis arrived at the courthouse just minutes before the 11 a.m. hearing. He was greeted by a throng of newspaper and television cameras but offered no comment.

Louisa attorney Jack Maus has been representing Rodis on a pro-bono basis up to this point and was with the priest yesterday. Maus told the judge that Rodis needs another two or three weeks to hire a lawyer. Maus himself may be retained in the case.

Rodney Lee Rodis (center, with cane) is escorted to the Louisa County Courthouse with his attorney, John Maus, yesterday morning. Rodis is due back in court on Feb. 26.
Photo by Robert A. Martin/ The Free Lance-Star

Sanner agreed to continue the matter until 9:30 a.m. Feb. 26. At that time, Rodis will tell the court who his lawyer is, and an arraignment could be scheduled.

Rodis is free on a $10,000 bond. A native of the Philippines, the priest had to surrender his passport to get bond.

After the brief hearing, members of the Louisa Sheriff's Office escorted Rodis outside. Rodis made no public comment, but several parishioners talked to reporters outside court.

Journalists gather around St. Jude parishioner Cindy Honchar following a hearing for Rodney Lee Rodis in Louisa yesterday. Rodis is charged with embezzling $600,000 from two rural parishes.
Photo by Robert A. Martin/ The Free Lance-Star

One parishioner who asked not to be identified said she didn't come to support Rodis. In fact, she said she took the stairs to the third-floor courtroom so she wouldn't run into him on the elevator.

Cindy Honchar, a parishioner at St. Jude, said church members have been checking bank records since the news broke about Rodis' felony indictment. She said she feels sorry for him but is also hurt and disappointed.

"We put too much faith in our priest," Honchar said. "It's a sad day for our church."

Honchar said she was disappointed that more information didn't come out in court yesterday. She said she came looking for answers.

So did Larry Fridley, another member of St. Jude who was hoping to hear an apology.

Rodis may not have said anything in court yesterday, but he did apologize in an e-mail sent to parishioners late Wednesday night. In the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Free Lance-Star, he asked for their prayers and said he would accept all consequences.

Honchar said she hopes church policies will be changed to ensure more oversight of finances. Rodis is suspected of depositing checks made out to the churches into a Fredericksburg-area bank account.

Priests are given wide financial authority over their parishes, said William Etherington, an attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

Etherington said the Richmond diocese will likely examine their policies on how contributions are handled. He said no decision has yet been made.

Etherington stressed that it's important to strike a balance between trusting priests and having some oversight. He pointed out that there are 130 parishes and 35 schools in the Richmond diocese, and this is the first major problem in his 16 years representing the organization. He said the overwhelming majority of priests have proven themselves honest.

Rodis was pastor at the two churches for 13 years before retiring for health reasons in May. Spotsylvania County court records show that he and a 44-year-old woman had been living together in the Sheraton Hills area. They paid off the last $76,000 they owed on the mortgage around the time of Rodis' retirement.

Detectives also found a receipt in his home from a company that allows people to wire money to the Philippines.

Neighbors believed Rodis and the woman, Joyce Sillador, were married. There were also three girls living at the Watson Lane home, and neighbors assumed they were his daughters.

It's unclear if they were, but Etherington said it's his understanding that Rodis isn't married. Neighbors said they believed he was in the import-export business.

The investigation began late last year when a parishioner made a $1,000 donation and asked for a tax receipt. There was no record of the transaction. Rodis was indicted on one felony count of embezzlement Jan. 8 and arrested the next day.

He is formally accused of stealing just $200 between September 2001 and October 2006, but state police believe the thefts were going on for years before. They also believe the amount stolen may have exceeded $1 million.

Rodis was in the United States on a religious worker's visa that expires in 2015. It's possible that he could be deported if convicted of felony embezzlement.

Rodis can no longer present himself publicly as a priest. The diocese hasn't said whether it will try to defrock Rodis, but regardless the sacraments he gave will remain valid.

To reach BILL FREEHLING: 540/374-5424


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