Friday, June 10, 2011

Not a good day for the Catholic church

On the day that attorneys for Rod Blagojevich made their closing statements in the former Illinois governor’s corruption trial, I couldn’t help but be more captivated by a pair of other criminal defendants in the news.

They’re completely separate cases, and not in any way connected to each other. I’m sure there are some who will be grossly offended that I will mention them in the same commentary.

BUT YOU HAVE to admit. Any day you get a pair of Catholic priests in the news, it becomes intriguing. Particularly when it is due to the fact that “men of the cloth” are just as capable of doing wrong as anyone else.

Before those of you who like to rant about the Catholic church being filled with pedophile priests get yourselves all worked up, I’d say “Relax.” We’re not talking about anything related to sex in any remote way.

One priest now facing criminal charges is accused of actions that supposedly allowed an incarcerated organized crime figure to try to cover up some of his personal wealth.

The other priest wasn’t limiting his gambling to any kind of church-sponsored Bingo night or charity-type pseudo-casino.

IF ANYTHING, IT was Rev. John Regan who caught my attention more. He is a pastor at St. Walter Parish in suburban Roselle, and officials with the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office say he was using church funds whenever he would go to the casinos in Elgin and Joliet.

Prosecutors say that during a three-year period, he managed to take about $300,000 from the church, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He entered his “guilty” plea on Thursday to theft over $100,000, and could get up to 15 years in prison (although probation also is an option) when he is sentenced in mid-August. Parishioners are expected to get their chance to speak their outrage at that time.

Regan wouldn’t say anything to the reporter-types who showed up for his appearance in court. But prosecutors say he managed to work his funding by taking money from the collection plates circulated during parish services and depositing it into a special bank account he created for the church.

WITH ACCESS TO that account, prosecutors say he either wrote checks from that account into his personal bank account. Or, they say, there were times when he used the special account’s ATM card to withdraw money while at the casinos.

Perhaps those people who want to ban ATMs at casinos have a point. I only hope that Regan wasn’t ever wearing his clerical collar while he was at the casinos. I’d hate to think that a priest was somehow invoking the thought of a holy privilege, thinking that God himself might bless his gambling efforts.

But I also want to believe that Regan is the exception. I don’t think there are that many priests who would take it upon themselves to use the collection plate gatherings to try to come up with enough money to “buy baby a new pair of shoes” – so to speak.

I also want to believe that a lot of priests would have a problem with the idea of one of their colleagues working to slip things secretly out of prison.

BUT THAT IS what federal prosecutors say was happening with Eugene Klein, who was working at the medical center of the prison in Springfield, Mo., when he met Frank Calabrese, Sr. – who is serving a life prison term for his involvement in Outfit activities.

Because of his incarceration, federal officials restrict Calabrese’s contact with the outside world. It is meant to limit his ability to influence criminal activity in the outside world.

It is because of his religious duties that Klein was among the few people Calabrese was allowed to see. Prosecutors say that Klein went too far in terms of priest/parishioner privacy. They say that earlier this year, Klein learned of a Stradivarius-made violin he had at a home in Wisconsin.

Court documents contend that Klein then passed along the information to other people, who would then try to get that violin out of the house without federal officials learning of it.

BECAUSE THE MOMENT that federal officials learned of an object of value in Calabrese’s possession, they would want to confiscate it and auction it off – with the money going toward the $4.4 million in restitution he is expected to pay.

I’m sure Klein on some level believed he was ministering to Calabrese and thought his involvement was to gain his confidence. But prosecutors say Klein also attended meetings in suburban Barrington where he allegedly passed along information to others related to the efforts to gain possession of the violin – which has a value in the “millions” of dollars.

Now, he faces two criminal charges that could get him prison terms of up to five years each, along with fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Which could make him an even sadder case than Regan, and could have Catholics praying that their priests don’t get tainted by the pair.


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