BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – A priest who resigned from a church in an affluent Connecticut community misspent up to $1.4 million in parishioner donations to lead a life of luxury with another man, according to a church-directed investigation.
The Rev. Michael Jude Fay spent church money on limousines, stays at top hotels, jewelry, Italian clothing and a Florida condominium shared with the other man, auditors hired by the diocese found. About half the money he spent was kept in a secret bank account, according to their report, which was mailed Friday to 1,700 parishioners of the Darien church and obtained in advance by The Associated Press.
Bridgeport Bishop William Lori, who ordered the investigation by Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, said he was shocked and angered by the findings. The report also was sent to federal authorities.
"The amount of money that was misused is tremendous," Lori said. "I think this report and other things we found out shows a real betrayal of trust and abuse of power."
Messages seeking comment were left Friday with Fay's attorney, James Wade. Fay, 55, has not commented since he resigned in May from St. John Roman Catholic Church amid accusations by a private investigator that he had misspent church money.
Federal authorities are investigating Fay, who has not been charged. They declined to comment.
The report describes a parish finance council that did not meet regularly in recent years, largely because of Fay's health and absences from the parish. Fay was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and frequently cited his health when asked about church finances, the report states.
Lori has faced criticism for his handling of the scandal, especially when it emerged that another priest and the church bookkeeper hired a private investigator to look into Fay. The pair said they hired the investigator in May after they met with Lori and Fay was not removed, according to the report.
Lori said after he was made aware of potential financial misconduct in late April he took swift action to stop Fay from using church credit cards and then to force his resignation.
"As your bishop, I accept responsibility in this matter and pledge to do everything possible to restore your confidence and trust," Lori wrote in a letter to parishioners.
The report, which was limited to the past six years, calculated the "potential financial loss" at $1.4 million. The review also identified an additional $350,000 deposited in Fay's personal account, but could not determine the source of the money.
Fay, pastor since 1991, told church officials that the money was used to help needy parishioners and for other legitimate church-related expenses. The report acknowledges some of the money may have been used for legitimate expenses, but said Fay failed to document his claims.
Fay also said he received money from parishioners, his family and the other man, Cliff Fantini. Fantini has described himself as a "very good friend," but denied that he and Fay were involved in a relationship.
Fay also charged $500 fees when he gave lectures.
The report paints a picture of a priest who felt entitled to a lifestyle that more closely resembled those of some of his wealthy parishioners.
"Father Fay stated that he believed he was entitled to dine at any restaurant of his choosing and as frequently as he desired, regardless of cost," the report states.
Fay shopped at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, drove a Jaguar, attended a sports club, bought jewelry from Cartier, spent $130,000 for limo rides for himself and his mother and stayed at hotels such as the Ritz Carlton, Hotel De Paris and the Four Seasons Hotel, the auditors found. He spent tens of thousands of dollars on home furnishings and meals and more than $20,000 to mark the 25th anniversary of his ordination, according to the report.
Fay paid Fantini and his production firm $10,000, claiming the money was for video filming and decorations for the church. No invoices were supplied to verify the claim, the report said.
Fay also invested in a Philadelphia condo with Fantini and said some of the furniture he bought was used in Fantini's residence.
The report also cites $257,00 for the purchase of the Florida property and $87,000 to rent an apartment in New York. Fay said he rented the apartment while he was treated for cancer there, but later admitted he began renting the apartment before he was diagnosed with cancer, the report said.
The bishop said the church would try to recover as much of the money as possible and was enacting reforms to tighten control of church finances.