Priest Had Knack for Fundraising
Theft Suspect Had Broad Power over Church Money

By Calvin R. Trice and Kiran Krishnamurthy
Richmond Times-Dispatch
January 20, 2007

Louisa -- The Rev. Rodney L. Rodis used his charm to spiritually inspire children and adults in two Catholic parishes he led in Louisa County.

That charisma also made him a first-rate fundraiser for capital campaigns totaling $875,000 for the two congregations.

Now Rodis is charged with embezzling from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bumpass and St. Jude Catholic Church in Mineral. Catholic Diocese of Richmond and state police estimates of the total range from $600,000 to more than $1 million.

Rodis had the knack of zeroing in on the deep pockets, said Patti Smogor, business manager for both churches.

"He courted large donors," Smogor said. "He visited people all over the place.

"He could put the touch on people -- whether it be for money or to volunteer."

Cottages on Lake Anna attract summer church visitors who hold an affinity for the Louisa parishes year-round, she said. Many of the churchgoers come from wealthier parishes in places such as Northern Virginia.

"They'd rather put their money down here than in some of the wealthier parishes where they were from, because we need the money more," she said.

Rodis, 50, now retired as pastor of both churches, appeared in Louisa County Circuit Court on Thursday to face one count of felony embezzlement and has been ordered to return Feb. 26 to say who his lawyer will be.

Church officials and investigators accuse Rodis of taking advantage of the sole authority to receive, deposit and make records for money donated to the parishes.

Banking experts unconnected to the case say an apparent lack of standard controls may have contributed to the situation.

E. Joseph Face, commissioner of financial institutions for the Virginia State Corporation Commission, said he likes to see organizations require multiple signatures on checks: "It's just good standard operating procedure."

Two accounts for the Louisa churches at Virginia Community Bank in Louisa do require two signatories to open a church account, Smogor said.

However, authorities believe Rodis opened a third account in Fredericksburg solely on his own.

William Etherington, a lawyer for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, said the diocesan system has generally worked. Under that system, parish finance councils play only an advisory role.

Asked if that system leaves parishes more susceptible to fraud, Etherington said, "Almost universally in my experience, this is not a problem. This is tragic, but it's not the rule at all."

Etherington added that he doesn't think an audit would have uncovered the absence of funds.

The Louisa churches are raising money to pay off a $775,000 building debt at St. Jude and a $100,000 debt at Immaculate Conception, parishioners said.

Authorities believe much of the missing money came from the capital campaigns and not the weekly collection, which is handled by counters.

However, capital donations were often given directly to Rodis or mailed to the church, parishioners said. He alone had a key to the post office box, church officials said last Sunday.

Church officials believe Rodis deposited the donations into a Fredericksburg bank account for which he was the sole signatory and then used the money for non-church purposes.

Like many, Cindy Faban of Ferncliff was an admirer of Rodis, particularly for his attention to children and the elderly at St. Jude. But she recalled, "It seemed like every week there was a special request for money."

At Immaculate Conception, parishioner John Williams of Beaverdam said he donated to his church's capital campaign and always wondered why he never received a receipt at the end of the year. He said he never asked for one.

Under Rodis, the parishes mailed tax receipts only to those who asked, said Smogor. "He printed them out and gave them to people."

The parishes did have problems with some receipts not matching donors' records of giving to them, Smogor said.

Rodis retired early in May for health reasons after heading the Louisa parishes since 1993. He is free on $10,000 bond.

Jail records in Louisa say he lives with a wife and three children. Catholic priests are supposed to be unmarried and celibate.

The diocese audited the two known accounts at the churches right after Rodis retired, and they turned up clean, Crystal LaVoie Lang, diocesan controller, told the congregations last Sunday.

The criminal case against him began when a Pennsylvania donor asked for a tax receipt for a donation from 2005. Church officials found the deposit at Virginia Heartland Bank in Fredericksburg in an account they knew nothing about.

Ronald E. Davis, Virginia Heartland's president and chief executive, said different churches have different requirements for opening accounts.

Davis declined to explain how an individual church's requirements affect Virginia Heartland's own practices or policy for opening accounts.

The account in his bank that police are investigating appears to have been opened through Caroline Savings Bank, which Virginia Heartland acquired in the mid-1990s, he said.

He said he could not say what the practices were for opening an account then, including whether multiple signatures were required. He declined to say whether Virginia Heartland has found the original signature card.

Etherington has said a pastor is given a diocesan document naming the priest as the bishop's agent for fiscal matters for a parish or parishes. He said that letter alone could be enough to open an account in a church's name, depending on an individual bank's requirements.

John Clickener, a retired bank vice president and former finance council member of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Tappahannock, says such a letter amounts to "a blank check."

"I find that to be a very strange and unsettling practice. . . . The system doesn't really provide for oversight or internal controls," he said. "If this were corporate governance, [the diocese] would find prosecutors lining up."

Clickener said he dealt with many churches and that in Protestant churches, he recalled lay people being more involved in the opening of accounts. "The deacons exercised great control," he said.

Bradfute W. "Brad" Davenport Jr., who has served as senior warden at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, said his experience is that two or more officials of the vestry, a body elected by parish members, sign a resolution to open an account at a specific bank and that more than one person signs the bank signature card.

Clickener doesn't believe embezzlement by pastors is widespread in the Catholic church but is concerned about waste or mismanagement of funds.

John W. Burdiss, an attorney and banking expert from Cape Charles, said any business is vulnerable. "Churches are probably particularly vulnerable because people generally would assume people are more honest," he said.

"Ultimately, you have to trust someone."

Contact staff writer Calvin R. Trice at or (434) 295-9542.

Contact staff writer Kiran Krishnamurthy at or (540) 371-4792.


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