Former parish administrator, ex-pastor in Vero Beach use bogus bank account to steal $1.5 million, police say

— Deborah True used more than $500K to pay off personal credit, investigators say

Deborah True

By Skyler Shepard

A nine-month fraud investigation has resulted in the arrest of a former Catholic church parish administrator in Vero Beach after donations were fraudulently deposited for years, police said.

The Vero Beach Police Department announced Tuesday that they were contacted by the Diocese of Palm Beach in December 2021 in regards to a fraudulent bank account and possible misappropriation of funds that occurred over the course of about five years at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach.

Police said the investigation revealed that the church’s former parish administrator, Deborah True, and former pastor, Richard Murphy, opened a bank account in the name of “Holy Cross Catholic Church” in 2012.

Investigators said the account was hidden from the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach.

Father Richard Murphy

Police said bank records show that nearly $1.5 million of parishioners’ donations were fraudulently deposited into the account since 2015.

From 2015 until 2020, officials said True used more than $500,000 of those funds to pay off personal lines of credit. An additional $147,000 was withdrawn from the account and deposited into True’s personal checking account.

The investigation revealed that Murphy also personally benefited from the funds in the account. However, Murphy died in 2020, so police said no criminal investigation was opened against him.

True, 69, turned herself in at the Indian River County Jail on Monday on one count of organized fraud over $50,000. She has posted bail and is awaiting trial.

Complete Article HERE!

Archdiocese ordered to halt payments to priests accused of child sex abuse

A U.S. bankruptcy judge rejected the Catholic church’s argument that it should be allowed to keep paying monthly stipends to staff accused of sexual abuse.

By David Hammer

A federal bankruptcy judge has ordered the Archdiocese of New Orleans to stop paying retirement benefits to five priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors or vulnerable adults but are not included on a list of more than 70 clergy the local church considers “credibly accused.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabill issued the order Aug. 31, rejecting the local Catholic church’s argument that it should be allowed to keep paying monthly stipends to priests, deacons and lay staff who face claims of sexual abuse in sealed documents that were turned over to the court by the Archdiocese earlier this year.

From the very beginning of its bankruptcy case in May 2020, the Archdiocese tried to argue that it needed protection from dozens of pending sexual abuse lawsuits, but it should be allowed to keep paying retirement benefits to all living clergy – including those on the “credibly accused list” released by Archbishop Gregory Aymond in November 2018 and updated with additional names over the years since.

Grabill quickly ruled in 2020 that living clergy on the Archdiocese’s official list should not continue to get stipends known as “maintenance” payments, although medical coverage could continue. But she has now taken what she called an “extraordinary” step to amend that ruling based on evidence provided by the Archdiocese this year.

In February 2022, Grabill ordered the church to produce additional internal records from the past 10 years, “including, but not limited to, personnel files, Archdiocesan Review Board … findings, and law enforcement referrals, maintained by any and all departments and offices within the Archdiocese — related to all Archdiocesan priests or lay persons serving in ministerial roles that have been accused of sexual abuse, whether placed by the Archbishop on the Credibly Accused List or not and whether named in a proof of claim filed in this case or not.”

Those records were filed with the court under seal. But when attorneys representing sexual abuse victims saw those records, they argued they “substantiate credible accusations of sexual abuse committed by five priests” who were never included by Aymond on the credibly accused list and, therefore, continued to receive full retirement benefits.

Grabill says those payments must now stop, essentially finding that those priests must wait in line for their claims to be paid just like the abuse victims and other church creditors.

“We continue to evaluate the court’s decision in this matter but currently have no other comment,” the Archdiocese said in a statement.

The five priests whose retirement stipends must end are not named. WWL-TV and The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate teamed up on investigations in 2020 and 2021 that exposed claims against living priests and clergy who were not on the credibly accused list. Aymond added a few names to that list, but others featured in the news reports were never added.

Those include Metairie deacon VM Wheeler, who was criminally charged in December with molesting an preteen boy in the early 2000s, and the Rev. Luis Fernandez, who is retired in South Florida and declined to answer WWL-TV’s questions about one of his former high school students accusing him of molesting him in the 1970s.

The church tried to argue that its responsibility to take care of retired priests and deacons is not governed by U.S. federal law but by the Catholic Church’s own laws, known as canon law. It argued that clergy would only lose their retirement benefits if they were laicized — or stripped of their ordination as priests or deacons. Aymond told WWL-TV that he could remove priests and deacons from ministry, but he couldn’t forcibly laicize those who don’t voluntarily agree to leave the priesthood or deaconate.  That could only be done by the Vatican.

Grabill rejected the Archdiocese’s argument that she was overstepping her authority.

Complete Article HERE!

$121.5M settlement in New Mexico clergy sex abuse scandal

One of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States has announced a settlement agreement to resolve a bankruptcy case in New Mexico that resulted from a clergy sex abuse scandal

Archbishop John C. Wester, head of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

By The Associated Press

One of the oldest Catholic dioceses in the United States announced a settlement agreement Tuesday to resolve a bankruptcy case in New Mexico that resulted from a clergy sex abuse scandal.

The tentative deal totals $121.5 million and would involve about 375 claimants.

The proposed settlement comes as the Catholic Church continues to wrestles with a sex abuse and cover-up scandal that has spanned the globe. Some of the allegations in New Mexico date back decades.

The chairman of a creditors committee that negotiated the agreement on behalf of the surviving victims and others said it would hold the Archdiocese of Santa Fe accountable for the abuse and result in one of the largest diocese contributions to a bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.

It also includes a non-monetary agreement with the Archdiocese to create a public archive of documents regarding the history of the sexual abuse claims, committee chairman Charles Paez said.

“The tenacity and courage of New Mexico survivors empowered us to reach a recommended settlement that addresses the needs of the survivors on a timely basis,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case seeking protection from creditors in 2018.

The settlement still must be approved by the abuse victims. It includes funds from sales or property and other assets, contributions from parishes and insurance proceeds. It does not include settlement of any claims against any religious orders, lawyers for both sides said.

“The church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured,” John C. Wester, archbishop of Santa Fe, said in a statement Tuesday.

“It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing of those who have been harmed,” he said.

In New Mexico, some 74 priests have been deemed “credibly accused” of sexually assaulting children while assigned to parishes and schools by the Archdiocese, which covers central and northern New Mexico.

Established in the 1850s after the Mexican-American War, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe filed for reorganization in late 2018 to deal with a surge of claims. An estimated $52 million has been paid in out-of-court settlements to victims in prior years.

“No amount of money can undo the pain and trauma that our clients and their families have suffered,” Dan Fasy, a lawyer who represented some of the victims, said Tuesday. “But we hope this settlement can bring some form of closure and healing to the abuse survivors we were privileged to represent.”

 

NJ diocese agrees to $87.5M deal to settle sex abuse suits

By MIKE CATALINI

A New Jersey Catholic diocese has agreed to pay $87.5 million to settle claims involving clergy sex abuse with some 300 alleged victims in one of the largest cash settlements involving the Catholic church in the United States.

The agreement between the Diocese of Camden, which encompasses six counties in southern New Jersey on the outskirts of Philadelphia, and plaintiffs was filed with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Camden on Tuesday.

The settlement must still go before a U.S. bankruptcy judge. If approved, the settlement would exceed the nearly $85 million settlement in 2003 in the clergy abuse scandal in Boston, although it’s less than other settlements in California and Oregon.

“I want to express my sincere apology to all those who have been affected by sexual abuse in our Diocese,” Bishop Dennis Sullivan said in a statement. “My prayers go out to all survivors of abuse and I pledge my continuing commitment to ensure that this terrible chapter in the history of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey never happens again.”

Details about what allegedly happened to the roughly 300 victims were not included in the proposed settlement, according to an attorney for some 70 of the victims.

“This settlement with the Bishop of Camden is a powerful advance in accountability,” said Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing 74 of the roughly 300 survivors. “The credit goes to the survivors for standing up for themselves and the truth.”

The alleged sexual abuse occurred from the 1950s into the 1990s, Anderson said, but primarily unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s.

The diocese said the deal calls for setting up a trust, which will be funded over four years by the diocese and “related Catholic entities” to compensate survivors of sexual abuse. Part of the deal also requires maintaining or “enhancing” protocols to protect children.

Abuse survivors who filed a claim in the bankruptcy could get $290,000, according to victims’ attorneys Jay Mascolo and Jason Amala.

The agreement comes more than two years after New Jersey expanded the window of its civil statute of limitations to allow for victims of sexual abuse by priests to seek legal compensation. The legislation lets child victims sue up until they turn 55 or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The previous statute of limitations was age 20 or two years after first realizing the abuse caused harm.

The diocese, like others across the country, had filed for bankruptcy amid a torrent of lawsuits — up to 55, according to court records — stemming from the relaxed statute of limitation.

In 2019, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses listed more than 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors over a span of several decades, joining more than two dozen other states that have named suspected abusers in the wake of a landmark grand jury report in Pennsylvania in 2018.

Many priests on the lists were deceased, and others were removed from ministry.

Complete Article HERE!

Cologne Catholic Church funds paid for priest’s gambling debts

The revelation that a priest’s debts were repaid from a fund to compensate sex abuse victims has prompted outrage in Cologne’s Catholic community.

Cologne’s Archbishop Woelki has previously faced mounting criticism over his handling of reports of sexual abuse

Catholics in the archdiocese of Cologne on Saturday expressed shock that the church had paid more than €1 million to clear the private debts of a priest.

The news provoked particular outrage as it emerged that the money came from a compensation fund for the victims of sexual abuse, who have so far received only a small fraction of the amount used for the priest’s debt.

What are the revelations?

As far as has become known so far, the diocese initially paid almost €500,000 ($540,000) for the priest to clear his gambling debts.

Since the money was apparently not taxed correctly, a total of €650,000 in income tax, including interest, had to be paid in arrears. The money was said to have been paid from a social fund of the diocese, from which compensation for victims of sexual abuse is also paid.

What’s the reaction?

Johassen Norpoth, spokesman for the council to the German Bishops’ Conference that assists abuse victims, said the archdiocese had been considerably less generous to those who suffered abuse.

Norpoth told Saturday’s Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper that, after years of struggle, 60% of the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and other church employees, had received less than €20,000.

“Victims of sexual abuse, some of them without a secure income like that of a priest, have been fobbed off with an amount less than 2% of what the church is paying out for a priest who has got into financial difficulties,” Norpoth said.

Maria Mesrian, spokeswoman for the Catholic reform initiative Maria 2.0, said the way the money was paid back had been irresponsible.

She said victims of abuse had been offered “ridiculous sums, while millions were being wasted on an unnecessary religious college or the private gambling debts of a priest,” referring to a previous dispute over the funding of a Cologne religious college.

Cologne’s Archbishop Woelki

Church vows no repeat

The archdiocese said the events had taken place in the final years of former archbishop Joachim Meisner, and had been taken over by his successor Rainer Maria Woelki after he took office in 2014.

The archdiocese said such a case could no longer occur in the same way “because we have learned from the case and the contact between the human resources department and the clergy is more intensive and better.”

Woelki has faced mounting criticism over his handling of reports of sexual abuse in Cologne — Germany’s largest Catholic archdiocese. The cardinal offered to resign as archbishop, but Pope Francis has yet to make a decision.

Woelki also raised eyebrows earlier this month after describing the pope as an “old man.”

Complete Article HERE!