Skip to comments.Spending at parish soars with new priest
Posted on 04/16/2005 11:24:59 PM PDT by CatherineSiena
A noted Catholic thinker who was brought in to run St. Anthony Catholic Church in south Omaha allegedly spent more than $400,000 in 1 and 1/2 years - at a small parish that normally spent about $50,000 a year.
Police are investigating the Rev. Peter Stravinskas' handling of St. Anthony's parish funds after parishioners filed a report of a possible embezzlement. Detectives have told a judge it appears parish money was spent on Stravinskas' personal expenses, including travel, mortgage payments and credit cards.
In a court filing last month, Omaha police said two parish funds - one worth $82,000 and the other worth $71,000 - were nearly wiped out. Only $4,200 remained from the $153,000 total, detectives told a judge.
But The World-Herald learned this week that those funds represented only part of St. Anthony's savings.
And people knowledgeable about the situation said the money taken from those accounts was only part of a larger amount spent from August 2002, when Stravinskas arrived, until March 2004, when the Archdiocese of Omaha froze parish funds.
Stravinskas has not been charged with a crime and remains St. Anthony's temporary administrator. He has declined to comment. He was scheduled to return Friday night from a trip to Rome, said the Rev. Nicholas Gregoris, who answered the door at the rectory Friday.
The Rev. Gregory Baxter, chancellor of the archdiocese, declined to comment, citing the police investigation.
Police have declined to comment on the extent of Stravinskas' alleged misspending.
Church financial records published in parish documents indicate, however, that St. Anthony had $313,000 in savings in January 2002. It is unclear what that total was when Stravinskas arrived that summer, but parishioners said St. Anthony had no extraordinary expenses before Stravinskas came.
The parish typically brought in about $50,000 a year and spent that much, said Albinas Reskevicius, a parish trustee for nearly 40 years until early 2003. He said he had no knowledge of parish spending since that time.
Omaha Archbishop Elden Curtiss brought Stravinskas, 54, to Omaha from Mount Pocono, Pa. A clerical group Stravinskas had founded there, the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, had been disbanded.
Stravinskas has written numerous books and founded magazines, the Catholic Answer and the Catholic Response, defending traditional Roman Catholic teachings.
Stravinskas, a native of New Jersey, is a priest of the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, but hasn't worked there in 25 years.
Stravinskas shares Lithuanian ancestry with many of the St. Anthony parishioners, but there has been no more explanation of why such a noted priest landed in a shrinking neighborhood parish.
Curtiss declined to be interviewed Friday about the parish's finances or about how he knows Stravinskas or why he brought him to Omaha.
In a May 2002 sermon, the archbishop praised Stravinskas as "a first-rate scholar with a rich academic background," and "a herald of truth in the church."
Curtiss delivered the sermon in New York City to mark the 25th anniversary of Stravinskas' ordination.
"Now that I am 70, I will be fortunate to be associated with you and your ministry for another decade," Curtiss said. "You are a special priest and a special friend to me and many people who really know you. I consider you a gift in my ministry and in my life."
In Omaha, Stravinskas registered the Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman as a Nebraska nonprofit, based at the St. Anthony rectory.
Stravinskas also hired a contractor to renovate parish buildings. Contractor Mark Warsocki said the priest paid him and others to do $126,000 in work.
In the church, Warsocki said, he installed a marble floor in the sanctuary, painted the ceiling and repaired the tabernacle area.
Stravinskas wanted to convert the rectory, a former convent, into a more comfortable residence for himself, Gregoris and a seminarian, Warsocki said. They felt cramped in 9-by-13-foot rooms where nuns once lived, the contractor said.
He built a three-room suite for Stravinskas, plus a library, in the rectory's unfinished basement.
Warsocki installed new flooring, a patio door, windows, a wine rack and a deck on the rectory's main floor, he said, and converted four second-floor sleeping rooms into two living suites with individual bathrooms.
Warsocki said Stravinskas also had hired him to create two more living suites. But Warsocki said Stravinskas stopped the work on Good Friday 2004, after the archdiocese audit. The contractor said he had $16,000 worth of labor left to do.
Warsocki described the work as needed and not lavish. He said Stravinskas had him buy materials from home improvement stores with the priest's personal credit card.
Warsocki said he undercharged because of inexperience and a desire to improve a parish where his grandfather and father had belonged.
Cases like these show the need for parish financial councils, as mandated by Canon Law (537). Looks like Stravinskas may be able to explain what happened to the funds, but it's not a good thing at all to have to investigate, or to break the trust between a pastor and his congregation, even if there was no fraud...
Finance councils are a waste of time unless the Canon is updated to require two signatures on every check above a certain amount (say $10,000), and one of those signatures have to be from a lay member of the council.
This priest has virtually drained the coffers of a parish for his own benefit (a wine rack?). These "floaters" (guys ordained for one diocese but who move around from place to place) should raise red flags with bishops, but, for some reason, they don't.
Hmmm, this reminds me of a similar story.....oh, nevermind.
That might be a good idea too.
There is absolutely no need to have any of these financial scandals; proper procedures could prevent almost all of them.
Obviously, an investigation should be done, but it sounds like he did some renovations that perhaps were needed for some time.
We just built a new church and rectory to the tune of 1.4 million. It's not hard to spend alot of money when doing capital improvements.
The title makes this sound like the guy embezzled, but the article signals otherwise.
Sounds eerily familiar, if you know what I mean.
There is a group of people at St Anthony's parish that has been trying to get rid of Fr. Stravinskas from day 1.
The parish books have been audited by an independent accounting firm hired by the archdiocese. They found no evidence of criminal activity. The archbishop has confirmed this personally to parishoners.
The world herald knows this but is extremely anti-catholic and jumps on any chance to attack Catholic priests.
There are several priests in the archdiocese office that want Fr Stravinskas to leave and they have been pressuring the Archbishop to do so.
The parish was dying and resembled an Eastern Bloc work camp before Father Stravinskas arrived. There was no permanent pastor and the parishoners were functioning as little more than a social club.
Don't rely on the media outlets in Omaha Nebraska to give you real story.
The ultimate blame lies with the archbishop for allowing this situation to fester to its current state.
Thanks for the facts. It sounded that way to me, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions.
Yup, I think we're on the same page.
Dr. Jeffrey Bond traces him back to Scranton, PA where several other scandals began and spread outward (NJ).
What was the scandal in New Jersey?
A LONG story which resulted in three threads getting pulled on this site.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.