A Fall from Grace: Was Justice Served?

By Susan Shultz
Darien Times
December 6, 2007

Forgiveness. Justice. Restitution.

From the beginning of the case of the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, these words have been used often.

The teachings of Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as any other faith in which He plays a part, are about love, faith and forgiveness.

In Tuesday's court proceedings, Fay said he was unable to ask for forgiveness from his parish at the time of his resignation. He said he wrote a letter, but it was not allowed to be published. Fay didn't say who refused it or why.

At the same time, the Diocese of Bridgeport not only presented St. John Parish with a letter of forgiveness from the Rev. Michael Madden; it was issued as a press release. Madden was the priest who, with the church bookkeeper, hired the private investigator who uncovered the lifestyle Fay was living off the church's money.

Fay appeared quiet and reserved Tuesday in court. However, in addressing the court, his voice commanded attention. Using symbolism, references to Lillian Hellman and Leonardo Da Vinci, calling himself a man of many layers, Fay was composed and articulate. It was not surprising that he was good at public speaking. His devotion to theatrical performances was presented as a large part of the evidence he'd done good works for society.

But was he acting now? There was no emotion breaking the perfectly spoken plea to the judge. No trembling in the voice so artfully weaving together a soliloquy of repentance, of a "chained and broken" man.

The same could not be true of Fay's supporters. His brother, Daniel, had trouble getting his words out in pleading with the judge to spare Fay prison.

And in one of the most moving moments of the sentencing, an elderly friend offered to serve a year in jail on Fay's behalf if only Fay would not have to go.

These expressions of devotion to the former pastor could move one to compassion, as could the psychologist who said she had to counsel Fay on his growing cancer ordeal. The prostate cancer racing through Fay's body was one of the most compelling arguments to keep him out of jail. Yet, it was not enough to move the priest to reinventory his life while he was taking money from his devoted parishioners, a point made by the prosecutor.

In fact, following his diagnosis, his theft got worse.

It is easy to understand the concept of forgiveness in this situation. In some ways, Fay is lucky his crime involved St. John Parish. He stole from people who by their very definition believe in the principles of forgiveness. They follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. He teaches to forgive.

Was justice served? It is hard to tell. Where is the justice for Father Madden? If, as the prosecutor says, Fay served himself for the last seven years as pastor, Madden served the people of St. John's — for both of them. Filling the pastor's void. And emotionally and physically exhausted, punished and maligned, he had no choice but to leave his life's work and walk away, as his faith too was irreparably shaken. Into the silence. No longer punished, but never exonerated. And never fully understood. And never able to explain everything to a church he loved more than himself.

Was justice served? For Fay, as the prosecutor pointed out, his jail sentence is less than half of the amount of time he stole from St. John Parish.

Was justice served to the people of St. John Parish? To Catholics everywhere, who are forced to once again defend a faith that takes hit after hit due to the actions of individuals — individuals who were trusted, and betrayed that trust. Individuals who were held to a higher standard and fell much lower than would have been expected from the average stranger.

As far as restitution, Fay's monetary theft was approximately $1.3 million as per the plea agreement. After Fay transferred his half of a Florida condominium, plus some additional assets, he got it down to approximately $1 million. That amount, during yesterday's proceedings, was basically written off. He can't pay it back. It's gone.

But more valuable, and even more impossible to return, is the faith in God and the church that he robbed of so many of his parishioners. Many people have either left St. John's or left the Catholic Church. Their faith permanently destroyed by a man they trusted, and who stole it from them as easily as he would a dollar from the offertory basket. That restitution can never be made, and that debt is too pricey to ever place a number on.

Fay pleaded for the judge to have mercy yesterday. He begged for compassion.

Perhaps, if the former pastor had shown those feelings for the parishioners who were placed in his trusted care, those people who placed their delicate faith in his hands in a world where believing is hard enough, he wouldn't be going to jail.

And those who held onto that faith know that God is just, and justice will be served.

E-mail Darien Times reporter Susan Shultz at


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