Bucks Man, Allegedly Molested by Priests, Admits Stealing from Archdiocese

By Larry King
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 21, 2010

A Bucks County man, allegedly molested by priests as a youth, Wednesday admitted stealing more than $100,000 from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by filing false claims for psychotherapy sessions that never occurred.

Michael W. McDonnell, 42, also pleaded guilty to stealing more than $9,000 in donations and payments to the Bucks County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, where he worked.

"What Mr. McDonnell did was deprive people who deserve help of the money that he stole," said Assistant District Attorney Jay Karsh. "It's a terrible thing."

McDonnell pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to felony theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, and other crimes. His sentencing has not been scheduled.

The thefts surfaced after a donor to the nonprofit council complained that a check he gave to McDonnell in 2009 had never been used for its intended purpose.

An investigation found McDonnell had taken checks or cash intended for the council and spent them on things such as rent, housecleaning, a golf outing, and treatments for his girlfriend by a breast-enhancement specialist.

A detective searching McDonnell's office computer also found receipt templates and other evidence of fraud against the archdiocese.

From June 2007 through February 2010, McDonnell submitted receipts to the archdiocese for 662 visits to a Willow Grove psychotherapist, each costing from $125 to $130 per hour. He attended only one of the sessions.

Still, the archdiocese reimbursed him $87,135 for the visits, plus $13,059.57 for mileage to and from his therapy.

McDonnell's attorney, Will Spade, said McDonnell from ages 12 to 14 had been molested by two priests. Spade, a former Philadelphia prosecutor who helped lead a grand jury investigation into sexual abuse by priests, declined to name them, but said the abuse had occurred.

Spade said McDonnell's primary abuser "was never prosecuted because it was beyond the statute of limitations." The priest "had been shuttled around from parish to parish" because of continuing allegations.

Priest-abuse victims, Spade said, suffer "all sorts of mental-health issues and compulsions." McDonnell, he said, has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whether that contributed to his crimes will be part of a court-ordered background report to be completed before McDonnell is sentenced.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell declined to comment on any aspect of the case "because we feel we need to reassure victims who come forward that the archdiocese honors their need for confidentiality in the healing process. It is important for us to state that we did not provide information to the courts in this matter without a court order."

District Judge Donald Nasshorn, immediate past president of the nonprofit drug and alcohol council, called it "one of the most offensive nonviolent offenses I have ever seen."

McDonnell "was a trusted employee," Nasshorn said. "He represented that the funds were going toward a certain cause. And then he took the checks."

Contact staff writer Larry King at 215-345-0446 or

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