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Philadelphia priest charged with embezzling

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — A priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responsible for a retirement home for priests faces federal charges of embezzling more than $535,000 from that same home.

Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 77, was charged by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia April 5 with four counts of wire fraud in a scheme he is alleged to have devised to siphon off funds intended for care of retired archdiocesan priests at Villa St. Joseph, Darby, where he has served as the rector since 2005.

Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 77, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responsible for a retirement home for priests, faces federal charges of embezzling more than $535,000 from that same home.  (CNS /Archdiocese of Philadelphia)

Msgr. William A. Dombrow, 77, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responsible for a retirement home for priests, faces federal charges of embezzling more than $535,000 from that same home. (CNS /Archdiocese of Philadelphia)

Catholic Human Services of the archdiocese operates the nursing care and residence for retired and ill priests.

The U.S. district attorney alleges that Msgr. Dombrow set up an account at Sharon Savings Bank in Darby unbeknown to the archdiocese, directed money from the estates of retired or deceased priests as well as bequests of lay donors to Villa St. Joseph, and transferred money electronically for his personal use.

The scheme is alleged to have begun in December 2007 and continued through May 2016. The district attorney charges the priest “had sole access” to the bank account, “which was funded by gifts from wills and life insurance proceeds that were intended for the archdiocese.”

The federal charges detail four transactions allegedly directed by Msgr. Dombrow: a $10,000 check paid from a separate bank in 2013; a $25,000 check paid from an individual’s estate in 2014; a $14,410 check paid from the estate of Father Francis Rogers, a deceased priest, in 2015; and a $10,000 check from a life insurance firm in March 2016.

Father Rogers, named in the 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report on child sexual abuse by clergy, died in February 2015 after residing at Villa St. Joseph since 1998. For 12 years, he lived under its Prayer and Penance program.

Developed by the Philadelphia archdiocese in response to the clergy abuse scandal, the program is designed to house archdiocesan priests, stripped of ministerial faculties, who have been found credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.

In a statement April 6, the Philadelphia Archdiocese said Sharon Savings Bank alerted the archdiocese last summer to “irregularities” about an account connected to the Villa.

“Upon review of information supplied by the bank, this account was immediately frozen,” said archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin. “At that time, the matter was referred to law enforcement by the archdiocese and Msgr. William Dombrow’s priestly faculties as well as his administrative responsibilities were restricted. Throughout the investigation, the archdiocese has cooperated fully with law enforcement.”

The FBI and the Darby Police Department cooperated in the investigation into the priest’s alleged actions.

The District Attorney’s Office expects Msgr. Dombrow to plead guilty to the charges by the end of April. If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum of 80 years in jail plus fines, and three years of supervised release.

Msgr. Dombrow was ordained in 1970 for the archdiocese. He has served as pastor and parochial vicar at several archdiocesan parishes, chairman of the Archdiocesan Priests’ Committee on Alcoholism and director of the Matt Talbot-Emmaus Institute in Philadelphia, a former program of the archdiocese.

 

 

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Vandalism at Jewish cemeteries decried, called hateful actions

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Responding to the destruction of some 100 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Feb. 27 deplored the “senseless acts of mass vandalism.”

The gravestones were discovered toppled over from their bases the previous morning at Mount Carmel Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia.

National media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones Feb. 21 after a vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo. The incident at the cemetery near St. Louis was repeated in suburban Philadelphia Feb. 26 when gravestones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery there. (CNS photo/Tom Gannam, Reuters)

National media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones Feb. 21 after a vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo. The incident at the cemetery near St. Louis was repeated in suburban Philadelphia Feb. 26 when gravestones were destroyed at a Jewish cemetery there. (CNS photo/Tom Gannam, Reuters)

The archbishop issued a statement in which he called on the clergy, religious and laypeople of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia “to join in prayerful solidarity with the families of those whose final resting places have been disturbed. Violence and hate against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable.”

The incident at Mount Carmel Cemetery mirrors gravestones destroyed at another Jewish cemetery near St. Louis about a week before.

In a statement Feb. 24, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, expressed solidarity and support for the Jewish community and also called for the rejection of such hateful actions.

“I want to express our deep sympathy, solidarity, and support to our Jewish brothers and sisters who have experienced once again a surge of anti-Semitic actions in the United States,” said Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, speaking on behalf of all the bishops and U.S. Catholics. “I wish to offer our deepest concern, as well as our unequivocal rejection of these hateful actions. The Catholic Church stands in love with the Jewish community in the current face of anti-Semitism.”

Two days earlier, the National Council of Churches in a statement said that “anti-Semitism has no place in our society. Eradicating it requires keeping constant vigil.”

In his statement, Archbishop Chaput said that “for Catholics, anti-Semitism is more than a human rights concern. It’s viewed as a form of sacrilege and blasphemy against God’s chosen people. In recent weeks, our country has seen a new wave of anti-Semitism on the rise. It’s wrong and it should deeply concern not only Jews and Catholics, but all people.”

Even as the archbishop issued his statement, a new wave of fear spread for Jewish people in the United States as about a dozen Jewish community centers across the country received anonymous threats of violence.

Several centers in the Philadelphia region, including the Kaiserman Jewish Community Center, which includes a preschool, in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood, had been evacuated the morning of Feb. 27 because of bomb threats, local media reported. By the afternoon, the facility along with others in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware had reopened.

Scores of other such threats have been received by Jewish community centers in recent weeks across the country.

“As a community, we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize and incite prejudice,” Archbishop Chaput said. “We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition.

“Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding.”

The heads of the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia met the afternoon of Feb. 27 at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. Msgr. Daniel Kutys, moderator of the curia for the Philadelphia archdiocese, represented Archbishop Chaput at the meeting.

The archbishop, who is a co-convener of the more than 30-member religious leadership council, was unable to attend the meeting.

In the neighboring Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan called the desecration of the Pennsylvania cemetery “abhorrent behavior” that “has no place in contemporary culture (and) stands in opposition to everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches.””

Bishop Sullivan also noted that Jewish community centers in his diocese as well as in Pennsylvania and Delaware received bomb threats over the weekend and on Feb. 27, the day he issued his statement.

“As Catholics, we too are spiritual descendants of Abraham. We recognize that an attack or threat against our Jewish family members is an attack against all peoples of faith,” he said, adding that everyone in the Camden Diocese stands “in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers against these hateful and anti-Semitic incidents.”

“We pray that the perpetrators of these incidents will come to know God’s love, bringing them to the light of peace where they may recant these acts of hate and join with all people of goodwill in forging a community of compassion,” Bishop Sullivan said.

In St. Louis, an interfaith cleanup effort of the vandalized cemetery took place Feb 22 followed by an interfaith prayer service. Vandals toppled more than two-dozen gravestones and damaged an estimated 200 more at the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which dates to 1893.

Represented by seminarians, priests, deacons, students and laity, Catholic St. Louisans stood with Jewish brethren at the cemetery in University City.

They were among about 1,000 people who helped with cleanup, including Vice President Mike Pence and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitans. When he came unannounced to help rake leaves, Pence was wearing work clothes, as he had come from another event.

“There is no place in America for hatred, prejudice, or acts of violence or anti-Semitism,” he said later. “I must tell you that the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place and the Jewish community. I want to thank you for that inspiration. For showing the world what America is all about.”

Greitens, who came ready to work in jeans, boots and a work shirt, described the vandalism as “a despicable act … anti-Semitic and painful. Moments like this are what a community is about. … We’re going to demonstrate that this is a moment of revolve. We’re coming together to share service.”

Seminarians were among those who answered St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson’s call Feb. 21 “to help our Jewish brothers and sisters.” About a dozen used their afternoon free time to help out.

“This is neat to see,” said seminarian Cole Bestgen, watching the workers fan out on a sunny and unseasonably warm 67-degree day armed with rakes, trash barrels and buckets. Though toppled headstones already had been replaced, the volunteers took care of general cleanup and maintenance.

The desecration sparked outrage from numerous ecumenical groups — Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Muslims and more — and dignitaries across the country, including President Donald J. Trump, who sent messages of thanks through Pence and Greitens.

 

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Contributing to this story was Dave Luecking in St. Louis.

 

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Priest out of prison after posting bail; to be retried next year

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Catholic News Service

 

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Although the former secretary for clergy of the Philadelphia Archdiocese was freed from prison after posting $250,000 bail Aug. 2, he will be retried next year on the same charge of endangering the welfare of a child for which he was convicted and incarcerated for most of the past three years.

Msgr. William Lynn was arrested and charged in February 2011, and convicted by a jury in 2012, for failing to properly supervise a now-laicized priest, Edward Avery. Read more »

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Philadelphia archdiocese to sell its seminary property, move operations

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The board of trustees of Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood has called for scrapping the planned consolidation of seminary operations on one 30-acre section of the campus and instead moving its operations off campus. Read more »

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High bidder can drive home a new Fiat, slightly used by 78-year-old man on one weekend

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is auctioning off one low-mileage car, in mint condition, used slightly by one owner.

Two of the dark gray, four-door Fiat 500 L sedans used to shuttle Pope Francis around the Philadelphia area during his visit to the city last September will be available for public viewing and at least one of them will be auctioned off during the Philadelphia Auto Show, running Jan. 30 to Feb. 7 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The Fiat 500 L "urban utility vehicle" used by Pope Francis sits outside St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Sept. 27 in Wynnewood, Pa. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is auctioning off two of the same model cars used to shuttle Pope Francis around the Philadelphia area during his visit to the city last September. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

The Fiat 500 L “urban utility vehicle” used by Pope Francis sits outside St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Sept. 27 in Wynnewood, Pa. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is auctioning off two of the same model cars used to shuttle Pope Francis around the Philadelphia area during his visit to the city last September. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts)

Proceeds from the auction will benefit ministries of the archdiocese, with 50 percent directed toward the annual Catholic Charities Appeal, and one-third each to Casa del Carmen social service agency in North Philadelphia, Mercy Hospice for homeless women and children in the city and the archdiocese’s schools of special education.

Speakers at a news conference at the convention center Jan. 20 hoped the symbolism of the simple car used by the humble pope may make it an attractive item for a car collector.

Millions saw the pope through the windows of the car as he was driven to and from Philadelphia International Airport, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary and center city during his Sept. 26-27 visit.

Chrysler Fiat provided two of the cars for the Philadelphia leg of his U.S. visit, and the company recently reached out to the Philadelphia archdiocese to donate them back, said Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Calling the cars “an icon of the papal visit,” Farrell recounted what for her was still an emotional moment, even four months later. After Pope Francis’ plane landed in Philadelphia and he was about to depart for center city and a Saturday morning Mass, he ordered his Fiat to stop, and stepping out on the tarmac, he walked over to kiss and bless a boy with cerebral palsy.

As the car auction will raise “much-needed funds for ministries to the most marginalized people,” Farrell said, the gesture is “exactly what Pope Francis would have wanted us to do.”

Car buffs will have the chance to bid at a public auction for one of the cars the night before the car show opens with 700 vehicles on display.

The other car may be auctioned later.

The auction starts at 8:45 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Black Tie Tailgate event at the convention center. The auction will accept bids from visitors to the event and online as video will be streamed live on the Internet, according to Max Spann Jr., president of the firm running the auction. The firm’s website is www.maxspann.com.

The Black Tie Tailgate is a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, raising $6.3 million since it began in 1986. Tickets start at $225.

The Philadelphia Auto Show, now in its 115th year, also benefits Philadelphia charities by donating $2 from each $14 per adult ticket sale.

None of the officials involved with the auction speculated on how much money they hoped to raise from the sale of the Fiat used by Pope Francis.

But it’s a safe bet that the final bid will well exceed the car’s $19,345 manufacturer’s suggested retail price once the gavel comes down with the word “Sold.”

 

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia archdiocese.

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Phila. priest’s conviction overturned; court calls for new trial

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The landmark trial of Msgr. William Lynn, the first high-ranking American Catholic churchman convicted of a crime in connection with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, will play out again as Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out his July 2012 conviction and ordered a new trial.

On Dec. 22 the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out the July 2012 conviction of Msgr. William Lynn, the first high-ranking American Catholic churchman convicted of a crime in connection with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and ordered a new trial. Msgr. Lynn is pictured in a 2012 photo. (CNS/Reuters)

On Dec. 22 the Pennsylvania Superior Court threw out the July 2012 conviction of Msgr. William Lynn, the first high-ranking American Catholic churchman convicted of a crime in connection with the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and ordered a new trial. Msgr. Lynn is pictured in a 2012 photo. (CNS/Reuters)

The three-judge panel said in its 43-page split opinion Dec. 22 that Common Pleas Judge Teresa Sarmina, who presided over the original trial, erred by admitting evidence of sexual abuse of minors by priests of the Philadelphia Archdiocese in the years before Msgr. Lynn served as secretary for archdiocesan clergy from 1992 to 2004.

In that role, he oversaw priests assigned by Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua to ministry in archdiocesan parishes, schools and institutions. Evidence presented during the three-month trial documented the abuse of minors by some of those priests over the course of many years.

Prosecutors presented evidence to argue that Msgr. Lynn endangered the welfare of a boy by failing to supervise his attacker, former priest Edward Avery.

Msgr. Lynn was convicted during the trial under the state’s child endangerment statute and sentenced to three to six years in prison.

In its opinion, the Superior Court said the common pleas court under Judge Sarmina “abused its discretion by admitting a high volume of unfairly prejudicial other-acts evidence.”

The trial court argued there was value in presenting evidence of a history of abuse in the archdiocese and church administrators’ practice of transferring abusive priests to other assignments.

The “probative value” of the evidence was intended to shed light on Msgr. Lynn’s mindset as secretary for clergy, and that he continued to follow past practice of recommending abusive priests for new assignments, the court said at the time.

The Superior Court disagreed in the value of such evidence.

“A substantial volume of this evidence concerned the bad acts of priests, and the archdiocese’s response thereto, that predated (Msgr. Lynn’s) tenure as secretary by many years, and in some cases, decades,” the opinion read.

The panel argued that the “vast quantity” of evidence prior to 1992 unfairly prejudiced the 12-person jury that convicted Msgr. Lynn on one count of child endangerment.

Although his conviction now has been overturned, the 64-year-old priest remains in custody at the state’s Waymart Correctional Facility in northeast Pennsylvania.

No new trial date or presiding judge has been announced, though Msgr. Lynn’s attorney, Thomas Bergstrom, requested in a legal filing an alternative to Sarmina, according to a published report.

He also sought to have his client freed on bail.

Msgr. Lynn has already served about half of his sentence.

Avery admitted to the crime of abusing an altar boy in 1999 on the eve of his trial in 2012 and is serving a five-year prison sentence.

 

Gambino is director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

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Pope will lift souls at Festival of Families in Philadelphia with help of Aretha Franklin

September 18th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — When Pope Francis visits America, he’ll meet a president, governors, Catholic prelates and ordinary folks. He’ll also meet a queen.

Aretha Franklin, the “queen of soul,” will belt out quintessentially American music at the Festival of Families the night of Sept. 26 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. She will lead a slate of entertainers offering the pope a glimpse of American pop culture, in all its artistic diversity. Read more »

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Mass for archdiocese, visit to prison top pope’s Philadelphia itinerary

July 2nd, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — The first stop for Pope Francis when he visits Philadelphia the morning of Sept. 26 will be the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul to celebrate a special Mass for the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The previously unannounced Mass is part of the pope’s itinerary for his Philadelphia visit announced by the Vatican June 30. Read more »

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Archbishop head of family council investigated for alleged embezzlement

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family and lead Vatican organizer of September’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, is under investigation by Italian prosecutors for alleged embezzlement.

Published reports in European media outlets say the investigation stems from 2011 when the archbishop led the Diocese of Terni in Italy, and diocesan funds may have been used improperly in a scheme to purchase then resell at a profit a 14th-century Italian castle.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is  president of the Pontifical Council for the Family,

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is president of the Pontifical Council for the Family,

A diocesan financial officer at the time was also the head of an Italian firm that purchased the property, which today remains undeveloped.

Prosecutors named the archbishop as one of the people being investigated. No charges have been filed.

In a statement May 28, Archbishop Paglia said he has not done anything illegal. “Obviously, I remain at the disposition of the investigating authorities, trusting completely in earthly justice.”

In Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said in a statement May 29 that he was saddened to learn the news of Archbishop Paglia, “and will pray for him.”

At the same time, Archbishop Chaput said, “I assure everyone that matters facing him do not impact our plans for September. We continue to work without interruption and joyfully anticipate welcoming our Holy Father and the world to Philadelphia later this year.”

The World Meeting of Families will host tens of thousands of people from 150 countries for four days of conferences and activities focusing on the family on Sept. 22-25. Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia Sept. 26-27 to cap the families’ congress and his first trip to the United States.

Officials with the World Meeting of Families said through a statement that they found the news about Archbishop Paglia “troubling,” but it does not affect planning for the congress because “our partnership is with the Pontifical Council for the Family and not any individual from that office.”

The council officially sponsors the World Meeting of Families, which is held every three years in a different city. The meeting in Philadelphia is the eighth such event, and the first in the United States.

“Planning for the event is progressing positively and without interruption,” the statement said. “It is important to note that the World Meeting of Families-Philadelphia 2015 is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, separate from both the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Pontifical Council for the Family.”

The Philadelphia organization had set a $45 million budget to host the historic events this September, and as of last February two-thirds of the money ($30 million) had already been raised.

“All fundraising … is done through the World Meeting of Families-Philadelphia 2015 with funds held in separate and distinct accounts from the archdiocese and the Pontifical Council for the Family. We have been — and remain — committed to ensuring that financial best practices are employed at all levels of the organization,” the statement said.

 

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How to volunteer at Philadelphia’s World Meeting of Families

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Catholic News Service

PHILADELPHIA — For the past year, the question most often heard by Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families, was “How can I help?”

Now there is an answer and a way anyone can lend a hand to the four-day conference and events surrounding the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia in September. Read more »

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