Priest Accused of Pilfering Funds to Cover Gambling Debts

By Elisabeth Mistretta
July 31, 2008

After only two years as pastor of St. Walter Catholic Church in Roselle, Rev. John Regan developed a strong following for his homilies, often using props to engage worshipers.

"I was impressed with him because he did give great sermons and commanded respect with his presence," said Linda Sharp, a member of St. Walter for 35 years.

Rev. John Regan

Today, church members like Sharp are wondering if Regan still deserves their respect; he's on paid suspension after the Diocese of Joliet learned approximately $112,000 was misappropriated from church funds.

Officials said a local bank noted irregularities in the church's accounts and then the diocese launched its own audit.

The DuPage County state's attorney office has not pressed charges against Regan but began investigating this week. The fund misuse is related to gambling and indicates Regan struggles with an addiction, said Doug Delaney, assistant to Joliet Diocese Bishop J. Peter Sartain.

He said Regan has begun therapy for his possible addiction and the pastor is unavailable for comment.

St. Walter's 3,000 parishioners learned of Regan's suspension when Sartain visited all Masses during the weekend to deliver the news.

Terrence Wittman, a member of St. Walter, Knights of Columbus, and a Roselle village trustee, said everyone in the parish was shocked.

"I don't see how anyone wouldn't be," Wittman said. "He has been a great pastor and has done great things for the church and it's just sad that he's sick. We all have our failings in life and I feel bad for him."

Counselors who specialize in compulsive gambling say it is a disorder that affects up to 5 percent of gamblers. Robert Ellis, an addictions counselor with the SHARE Program in Hoffman Estates, said St. Walter members should know Regan's actions are not a moral failing.

"You start doing things that you never thought you'd be capable of doing," Ellis said. "There are people who are very religious who have done it, geniuses who have done it, rich, poor: it knows no bounds."

Delaney said the diocese has no evidence that Regan misused funds from other parishes since his ordination in 1989, and diocese officials were not aware of a possible gambling problem. The $112,000 missing from St. Walter has already been reimbursed by the Joliet Diocese insurance company, and officials say they will also seek restitution from Regan.

Wittman said he is impressed by Bishop Sartain's straightforward approach,

"He showed up to the parish, took the bull by the horns and didn't try to sugar coat what happened," he said. "He took responsibility and I think people took comfort in that."

Other longtime parishioners like Sharp are shaken. Sharp said she is disheartened and hopes this doesn't reflect badly on the whole Catholic faith.

"This is not what the religion is," Sharp says. "You go to these people for guidance and then something like this happens and who do you go to? It makes you question, and people of faith don't want to have to question their church."

Regan's investigation isn't the only problem facing St. Walter's parishioners. In April, church member and volunteer Chester A. Stabrowski, 87, was charged with predatory criminal sexual assault after he was accused of molesting two boys, both less than 18, in his home last summer after befriending them while volunteering at St. Walter.

Stabrowski pleaded innocent and his case is still pending; he is free on bond and is due in court next month.

"I feel bad for our whole parish because there have been a couple incidents that have not bought good light to what is otherwise a great parish," said Wittman. "St. Walter is a very strong, active church in the diocese."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.