One priest is under investigation for the alleged large-scale embezzlement of church funds. But some parishioners are also complaining that a second, more junior priest has been punished by the local bishop for his efforts to expose wrongdoing.
The Rev. Michael Jude Fay was pastor at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in affluent Darien, Conn., for 15 years before resigning two weeks ago. A private investigator who looked into Fay’s dealings over the past 25 months has claimed that he found questionable expenses involving around $200,000 during that period.
Though no charges have yet been brought against Fay, published reports have stated that both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven are looking into the matter.
This is clearly bad news for the parishioners. But many are also extremely angry at the treatment of Rev. Michael Madden.
Following Fay’s resignation, Madden was promoted to acting administrator of the parish. But, after acknowledging during a Mass last week that he had joined the parish’s bookkeeper, Beth D’Erario, in hiring the private investigator – and blasting the diocese for having “failed to come to my rescue when there were red flags waving everywhere” – the younger priest was summoned to Bridgeport to meet with Bishop William E. Lori.
By that night, Madden had written a letter apologizing that “I spoke way out of turn and suggested things regarding Bishop William Lori and the Diocese of Bridgeport that were not true or factual.” He also described his decision to hire the private investigator as “a huge mistake which has further complicated matters.”
The letter, to many parishioners’ consternation, also included a statement by Madden that he had “voluntarily asked Bishop Lori to release me from my appointment as acting administrator.”
Madden noted that the bishop had given him the choice of a time of “rest and reflection” immediately, or after a new pastor settled in at the church. Madden said he had chosen to stay as parochial vicar for the time being.
This, in turn, led to a tumultuous meeting at the church when a crowd estimated at 200 voiced their dissent to Bishop Lori. Many of them seemed to believe the apology had been coerced from Madden and that the requirement of “rest and reflection” essentially amounted to an attempt to oust him from the parish.
Now, the Echo has learnt that parishioners have launched a petition aimed at ensuring that Madden is not moved elsewhere and that he does not suffer for his actions.
Regarding Madden’s decision to hire the private investigator, parishioner Cyndy Ashburne told the Echo, “Obviously, the man was in a position where he felt he had no choice. The Catholic Church has had a problem for a long time with hiding things, with keeping things covered up. So it’s important that people step forward to right a wrong.”
The initiative for hiring the private investigator is believed to have come from the bookkeeper rather than from Madden himself. But the priest is understood to have gone along with the idea after doubts emerged as to whether the diocese would be sufficiently robust in investigating suspicions of wrongdoing by Fay. Madden and D’Erario hired the private investigator, Vito Colucci Jr., with their own funds.
Another parishioner, Phillip Dolcetti, said that he had been one of those who spoke out during the stormy meeting addressed by Bishop Lori last week.
“I said to the bishop, ‘He [Madden] doesn’t need rest and reflection,'” Dolcetti told the Echo. “He needs rest and relaxation. That man has nothing to reflect upon. He did the right thing.”
“We are all concerned that they are going to put him out to pasture,” Dolcetti added. “He went out on a limb and he’s jeopardized his future. You don’t punish somebody who is honest.”
Ashburne said that Madden “looked in pretty bad shape” at the meeting. “He looked like he had been put through the wringer,” she said.
In separate interviews, both Ashburne and Dolcetti suggested that concern about the treatment of Madden is beginning to overshadow parishioners’ anger at the deeds in which Fay is alleged to have been involved.
Nonetheless, rumors are rife that the current allegations about Fay’s behavior could be only the tip of the iceberg. Fay’s expensive clothing, use of limousines and other symptoms of a taste for the high life had perplexed some parishioners for years, though rumors that he came from a rich family quashed some suspicions.
It has also been reported that Fay owned a condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a close male friend. The friend, Clifford Fantini of Philadelphia, also known as Cliff Martell, has been variously described as a fashion show director and a wedding planner. Some parishioners are adamant that Fay and Fantini/Martell were lovers and that the wedding planner often stayed at the rectory for long periods.
Fay’s friend could not be reached by the Echo. However, when contacted by the New York Times, he described the priest as a “most loyal friend and wonderful human being” before declining further comment.
Fay’s current whereabouts are unclear.
“I’m happy that he’s gone,” Dolcetti said.