Cases around Country Show Theft-Abuse Link Alleged Victims Say They Often Received Lavish Gifts from Priests

By Michelle Nicolosi
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
October 30, 2004

In more than a dozen cases investigated by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, priests accused of abuse were also accused of stealing from the church: Defrocked Seattle priest John Cornelius misappropriated thousands of dollars of church money to cover personal expenses, according to an investigation by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. The investigation of Cornelius' financial dealings was limited to the use of funds from one bequest of about $60,000, and found that Cornelius had spent some of the cash on personal expenses, said archdiocese finance director Patrick Sursely. Cornelius paid back the money, and the archdiocese limited his authority to deal with parish finances, he said. Cornelius said he had no comment.

One man who said he was frequently propositioned by Monsignor Thomas O'Brien in Missouri when he was a teen said O'Brien repeatedly pocketed cash left by parishioners who came to the church to light prayer candles. "Part of my duties was to go over and pick up the money from the little collection box where people light candles and say prayers," said Tom Scanlon, who owns a car dealership and lives in Stilwell, Kan. "A number of times when I'd bring that over to him he would just take it and slide it into his pocket."

There have been at least five abuse allegations against O'Brien, who has been removed from ministry. Officials at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph say they know of no financial misconduct by O'Brien. The allegations were never brought to the diocese, said spokeswoman Rebecca Summers. O'Brien "categorically denies" all allegations of sexual abuse and theft, said his attorney Gerald McGonagle.

Monsignor Patrick O'Shea of San Francisco was indicted on 224 counts of sexual abuse and, according to court documents, stole $187,000 from the church. O'Shea bought a boat and vacation homes where he took his victims, and bought other gifts and enticements to lure victims, said Linda Klee, who prosecuted the sexual abuse case against O'Shea for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.

"He always took them in a new sports car that he would let them drive. He would take them on trips. He took one boy on a trip to Ireland, took one to meet the pope, took one to Mexico," said Klee. "I think it would be difficult to do that on a priest's salary. How would you afford that?" Attracting victims "doesn't require money, it just makes it easier when you have money," said Klee. "In the case of O'Shea, the church gave him access to a large number of kids, and the money made it easy."

O'Shea was defrocked, but the criminal abuse charges were ultimately dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed, Klee said.

In Cincinnati, alleged abuse victim Andrew Smith told police the Rev. Richard Arko bought him 10 cars and motorcycles over the years and let him stay rent-free in a house he owned, said Smith's attorney James Gatskie. Smith told the police that he and Arko took money from the collection for personal expenses. The police investigated and found that money had indeed been stolen from the collection, but they couldn't prove that Arko had been involved in the theft, said Lt. Thad Hete with the Norton Police Department in Ohio.

Arko was recently convicted on felony drug charges after police found 35 marijuana plants growing in a spare room in his rectory. He is on a leave of absence. Arko has said he did not abuse anyone or steal from the church, said his attorney Donald Varian. Varian said he doesn't know whether Arko bought Smith cars, but confirmed that Arko did let the man stay in a house he owned.

Alleged victim Steve Sanchez in Los Angeles said the priest who allegedly abused him - the Rev. Clinton Hagenbach - used money from the collection to support his expensive habit of buying cars, motorcycles, gifts and outings for many boys. Eighteen men have accused Hagenbach of abuse. Officials at the Los Angeles Archdiocese said they have no evidence Hagenbach - now dead - ever stole from the church.

Two alleged victims of defrocked New Jersey priest James Hanley said he took money from the collection to buy them gifts and other enticements. More than 20 men have accused Hanley of abuse. Hanley could not be reached for comment.

A Rhode Island priest who later moved to the Fort Worth Diocese in Texas was convicted of stealing more than $120,000 from the church in the 1990s. Two men later accused the priest of abuse, and he has been removed from ministry.

According to a Dallas Morning News report at the time, "prosecutors said he used some of the money for tropical vacations with adolescent boys and once gave a teenager he met in a park enough money to get a car."

He has denied the sexual abuse charges.

A priest in the Rockford Diocese in Illinois, convicted of stealing more than $200,000 from the church in the 1990s, was later accused of sexual abuse by four men and was removed from the ministry.

A monsignor removed from ministry in Alaska after he was accused of sexually abusing more than five boys from the 1960s to the 1980s was also found to have misappropriated church cash. As is often the case, the priest had a lot of discretion over spending, and parish records were often incomplete, said Jim Gorski, an attorney representing the Anchorage Archdiocese.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., a priest accused of abuse by several men was also caught stealing at least $10,000 from the church. Officials there say he has left the priesthood and the country.

The Rev. Ronald Yarrosh of the Diocese of Allentown in Pennsylvania was charged in May with 110 counts of felony sexual abuse of children; he is also under investigation for possible embezzlement, said diocese director of communications Matt Kerr. The sexual abuse charges are all related to the possession of child pornography, Kerr said. Yarrosh has been removed from ministry.

A priest removed from ministry after being accused of abuse in Toledo, Ohio, also took more than $30,000 from his religious order, according to a report published in the Toledo City Paper. Calls and e-mails to the order were not returned.

The Rev. Richard Ruffalo was accused of molesting two boys in the Joliet Diocese in Illinois. One anonymous alleged victim told the local newspaper, The Herald News, that Ruffalo stole from his parish's collection on a regular basis. The paper reported that Ruffalo, who has since died, led an "extravagant lifestyle" and that he took boys on frequent trips to Las Vegas and flew two boys to California first class. Diocese spokesman John Cullen said the diocese has "no record of Father Ruffalo being accused of stealing money from anyone."


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