Some Defend Ousted Pastor: Diocese Details Financial Mismanagement

By Michael Dinan
The Advocate [Greeenwich CT]
January 22, 2007

Parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel Church say they're stunned that the Diocese of Bridgeport officials asked the Rev. Michael Moynihan to resign last week after auditors turned up more than $500,000 in unaccounted spending.

Moynihan, 54, St. Michael's pastor for 14 years, may need more time to explain the spending, said Declan Maguire, 56, a Stamford resident who has belonged to St. Michael for a dozen years.

"It's as if they've jumped to a conclusion without waiting for the evidence," Maguire said as dozens of teary and stern-faced parishioners began filing out after yesterday's 11 a.m. Mass. "I'm hearing a case for ousting someone based on very light evidence, in an investigation which is not complete."

Peggy Martino of Greenwich, a mother of four and church member for nine years who serves on the St. Michael Women's Association, said she's looking for greater accountability from Moynihan's superiors.

"First of all, there's not enough information yet for what appears to be a rush to judgment," Martino said. "More information is needed. Having said that, the leaders of this Catholic church need to take more direct responsibility. And that should not automatically translate into casting aside an underling such as a parish priest, but rather the leaders need to take the personal responsibility for their role. If Father Moynihan's strength is not financial management, then why can't the Catholic church leaders recognize that and put alternatives in place, like support services?"

According to diocese officials, last summer's audit details extensive financial mismanagement by Moynihan.

The Bridgeport Diocese, overseen by Bishop William Lori, includes 87 parishes in Fairfield County. In 2002, each parish began undergoing a diocesan review, Lori told more than 300 St. Michael parishioners during a 30-minute homily. It was a "sad but necessary decision" to ask for Moynihan's resignation, Lori said.

St. Michael's review came in 2004 and showed that basic accounting practices were lacking, such as documenting expenses and preparing a budget, Lori said. Moynihan assured Lori that things would improve, the bishop said.

In July, St. Michael underwent a second audit, this one led by a private accounting firm. Days into that audit, the U.S. attorney's office informed the diocese that St. Michael was using an unreported off-the-book bank account - a violation of diocesan rules, Lori said. The account was closed and the private firm's audit became a full-fledged financial investigation, Lori said. It became clear that Moynihan's personal finances were intertwined with those of the parish, Lori said.

In August, as Moynihan tried to explain how about $529,000 had been spent, Lori removed Moynihan's authority to write checks or otherwise spend parish money.

"As it happened, I hoped, I prayed, that this nightmare, and it truly is a nightmare, might possibly have a happy ending," Lori said. "But that was not to be, because late in December - five months into this process - a second off-the-books account was discovered by the diocese, an account, I was assured by Father Michael, did not exist. This was the last thing I wanted to find out and it was a very sad discovery that led me to the conclusion that Father Michael was either unable or unwilling to lead the parish to a new day of financial transparency and accountability."

During an interview, Lori said some St. Michael's members care for their former pastor and were having difficulty accepting the situation.

"There's nothing I've said publicly that I haven't said first to Father Michael and the parish council," Lori said. "Everything discussed publicly today has been discussed over six months. This has been a consistent discussion."

Moynihan could not be reached for comment.

In his resignation letter, Moynihan said the audit "will illustrate my deficiencies as a financial administrator."

"I believe at the end of this process that there will be no findings of impropriety or wrongdoing on my part as your pastor," he wrote. "If the final report should indicate unresolved or questionable expenditures, I will, to the extent that I can, make an appropriate financial contribution back to the parish I love so much."

It isn't clear when the investigation will wrap up, especially since the details of the second off-the-books account are forthcoming, said Norman Walker, the diocese's chief financial officer.

"Getting details of that has proven to be difficult," Walker said.

Moynihan will remain a "functioning priest," Lori said.

"At a date ahead I'll be speaking with him about options for a new priestly assignment. At the same time, after a long and very thorough process, I have reluctantly but firmly concluded that any assignment will not entail financial administration."

That did little to comfort Raymond Zrike Jr., 55, a Franklin Lakes, N.J., man who grew up in Greenwich and was married by Moynihan in Texas seven years ago.

"I think everybody is very shocked at the insinuation of any wrongdoing," Zrike said. "Our prayers are with him. He's a wonderful man, a very strong pastor. My hope is that he's not stealing or breaking the law, the church law or other laws. It's all very sad and it's made me very angry."

Last year, a scandal broke involving the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, former pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien. Fay allegedly misspent $1.4 million in parish funds over six years, some of it to buy gifts for a man who was allegedly his lover. The Fay case is under the investigation of the U.S. attorney's office.


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