Police Say Church Thefts Not Related to Probe of Ex-Pastor

By Ann Rodgers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
December 31, 2005

State police say they see no link between the theft of Christmas offerings from an Ellwood City parish and an investigation of its former pastor for financial improprieties.

State police in Lawrence County had been investigating the Rev. Mauro Cautela, former pastor of Holy Redeemer parish, until his death Dec. 12.

Many of Father Cautela's parishioners believed he had been framed.

But authorities investigating this past week's theft said they "are not seeing any connection" with allegations against Father Cautela, according to state police communications operator Travis Weiland.

On Wednesday, when church workers went to count offerings that were locked up after Chrismas Eve and Christmas Day Masses, the money was gone, said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. The pastor believed that he and the assistant priest had the only two keys, and police are investigating who might have made a copy.

Father Cautela, 57, was removed from public ministry Aug. 24 when diocesan officials went to the Lawrence County district attorney with what they deemed "serious allegations of improprieties."

No details were made public, but sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they involved misuse of parish money.

After Father Cautela's removal, diocesan auditors had "established new procedures to make sure that collections were protected," Father Lengwin said.

Ellwood City police Lt. David Kingston would say only that this past week's theft "is under investigation. We will be interviewing people." He said there was no reliable estimate of how much money was taken.

The Rev. John Oesterle, pastor of Holy Redeemer since Sept. 23, said he had already changed the lock. He has written to the congregation explaining what happened "and how sad I feel about the whole thing. We will make every effort to safeguard the gifts that we receive from the parishioners. I had thought the money was in safekeeping.

"One of the few things that helps is that almost everyone today gives by check rather than cash. I don't think the thief has any use for the checks."

This is a painful blow for a parish that already had suffered so much, Father Oesterle said.


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