'Mortified' Priest Avoids Prison in Embezzling

By Christopher Burbach
December 17, 2008

A priest who embezzled $83,000 from St. Bridget Catholic parish in south Omaha won't have to go to prison and will return to work soon for the Archdiocese of Omaha.

The Rev. Rodney Adams was sentenced Tuesday to five years' probation. Douglas County District Judge Russell Bowie also ordered Adams to perform 500 hours of community service and pay $23,000 in restitution. The judge said he based the restitution amount on Adams' ability to pay.

Adams, 43, stole the money over five years while serving as pastor of both St. Bridget, 4112 S. 26th St., and St. Rose, 4102 S. 13th St. He double-dipped on his salary, plus spent parish festival money on himself.

"What I have done is inexcusable," Adams told Bowie in court today. "I have brought shame not only to my family but to the priesthood."

Adams stole money from St. Bridget in two ways over five years, prosecutors have said in court.

When first assigned to the parish in June 2003, Adams told the parish bookkeeper to pay him an amount that was double the amount he was supposed to receive from St. Bridget, because St. Rose was paying half his salary.

So Adams received more pay than he was supposed to receive from June 2003 until the archdiocese discovered the overpayment in March 2008. That overpayment totaled more than $51,000, prosecutors have testified.

Adams said he had betrayed the trust of Archbishop Elden Curtiss and parishioners.

"I am mortified by my actions," Adams said.

He told the judge that he had been diagnosed with a psychological disorder that led to compulsive behavior and with an "addiction to compulsive spending." He has declined to say what he bought with the stolen money.

"I will spend the rest of my life trying to pay back the money that I stole and regain some credibility as a priest," Adams said.

Deputy Douglas County Attorney Jim Masteller, prosecutor in the case, addressed only restitution in his remarks to Bowie. Masteller said it would be impossible for Adams to pay back all $83,033.74 by himself over five years.

The prosecutor said the priest has $5,000 in a checking account and had said he can pay $300 a month toward restitution. Masteller suggested that Adams could get a part-time job and pay a little more than that.

Bowie ordered Adams to pay $5,000 immediately and then $300 monthly over the next five years.

The judge said he had received an extraordinarily large number of letters supporting Adams.

"Even the bookkeeper that you hoodwinked wrote a letter supporting you," Bowie told Adams.

More than 15 relatives and friends, including three men in Roman collars, attended the hearing to support the priest. Adams eschewed clerical garb today, instead wearing a dress shirt and khakis.

He had resigned as pastor after archdiocesan accountants discovered the theft this spring. The archdiocese placed him on administrative leave at the time but is preparing to put him back to work.

"Now that the court proceedings are over, we are evaluating a future assignment for Father Adams," said the Rev. Joseph Taphorn, chancellor of the archdiocese.

That probably will include parish work, Taphorn said, but added that Adams will not have custody of parish funds.

Adams pleaded guilty in June to felony theft by deception. He told Judge Bowie then that he was being treated for mental illness. Bowie released Adams pending sentencing.

The priest has been receiving in-patient treatment at a Maryland clinic for six months. Adams said in court today that he is taking medication and has attended a 12-step program for compulsive spenders.

His attorney, James Schaefer, said he had set up a fund at Wells Fargo Bank to which people could donate to help pay restitution.

The judge ordered restitution be paid to an insurance company. Asked if that meant insurance had covered the loss, Taphorn said no insurance payment had been made yet.

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