Angela Carella: In priest scandals, diocese seems the last to know
Updated 10:45 pm, Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The former pastor of St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport now has a nickname: Monsignor Meth.
Earlier this month federal authorities arrested Kevin Wallin, 61, charging him with possession with intent to distribute and distribution of methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant.
The indictment said that Wallin earned as much as $9,000 a week selling meth in the Waterbury area and that he has been treated for addiction to the drug.
Diocese officials say they became aware of Wallin's problems in spring 2011, when parishioners complained about his appearance and erratic behavior.
Officials visited the St. Augustine rectory and learned that Wallin sometimes dressed in women's clothing and entertained similarly dressed men. The entertainment included sex acts.
Wallin resigned as pastor of St. Augustine in June 2011 and was put on sabbatical a month later. In May 2012, former Bishop William Lori relieved Wallin of his priestly duties.
After he left the priesthood, Wallin bought a store in North Haven called Land of Oz. It sells sex toys and X-rated DVDs. Investigators think Wallin wanted to use it to launder drug-sale profits.
Wallin once was a protege of Edward Egan, who was bishop of Bridgeport from 1988 to 2000, when he became archbishop of New York. Egan later was elevated to cardinal.
Wallin reportedly was a charismatic speaker who worked in many charities and enjoyed Broadway musicals, which he often attended with Egan.
Now Wallin joins the list of Diocese of Bridgeport priests who have made headlines for all the wrong reasons, even apart from sex-abuse cases.
The diocese had its share of those. Documents that the U.S. Supreme Court forced the church to release in 2009 showed that 109 sex-abuse cases involving 32 priests were reported in the Diocese of Bridgeport, which settled with 64 claimants for a total of $36 million.
More recent cases were about theft of parish funds and unpriestly behavior.
They include a 2006 scandal involving Michael Jude Fay, former pastor of St. John parish in Darien. That year a private investigator went to police with allegations that Fay had been stealing money for years, spending much of it on a lavish lifestyle he'd created for himself and his boyfriend, who was well-known at the rectory.
The parish priest and bookkeeper said they went to the private investigator after they reported the thefts to the diocese and Fay was not removed.
The whistleblower priest, who was popular in the parish, was demoted and forced to sign an apology. He then quit the priesthood, prompting parish anger against Lori.
The bookkeeper quit and filed a suit alleging that diocese officials tried to lay the thefts on her.
In 2007, Fay admitted stealing more than $1 million from the parish. He died in prison in 2009, the year the diocese settled the suit with the bookkeeper, giving her an undisclosed amount of money.
In 2006, about the time the Darien scandal broke, an incident quietly began in a Greenwich parish. The U.S. attorney's office alerted the diocese about an off-the-books account at St. Michael the Archangel. It is unknown who alerted the U.S. attorney.
In 2007, the pastor, Michael Moynihan, resigned amid allegations that he kept church money in secret accounts and used at least $400,000 of it to pay his credit card bills.
Like Fay, Moynihan shared a home with another man and his relationship was an open secret.
In 2011, Moynihan pleaded guilty to a federal charge of obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents about what happened to the money and for forgery. Diocese officials said Moynihan also lied to them.
In 2012, Moynihan was sentenced to five months in prison, set to begin last September. He must pay the diocese $400,000 and complete 120 hours of community service.
After the scandals with Fay and Moynihan, parishioners from Stamford and elsewhere in the diocese questioned its oversight of priests.
In 2006, Lori released a statement saying that the church "cannot publicly respond to rumors and speculation" when incidents are reported, but it takes credible accusations seriously. The diocese tries to find out if allegations are truthful and "strives to bring about healing." When "behaviors put the well-being of a parish or individuals at grave risk, then the diocese deals with these publicly."
Lori, who was bishop of Bridgeport for 11 years, left the diocese in May, when he was elevated to archbishop of Baltimore.
The Diocese of Bridgeport has been without a bishop since his departure.
Diocese spokesman Brian Wallace said Monday that the church learned from the Fay case, as evidenced by its handling of the Wallin case.
With Wallin, "some people came forward with information that was not very detailed, not complete, not a formal complaint," Wallace said, but "it gave us pause for concern."
So diocese officials looked into it and "became aware of some activities people were concerned about, sex acts in the rectory," Wallace said. Wallin "was confronted. There were some denials. At some point we became aware we were dealing with inappropriate behavior."
Wallin resigned a month after the diocese learned of the complaints, Wallace said.
"The bishop acted immediately. There was no attempt to cover it up or sweep it under the carpet," Wallace said. "We immediately urged (Wallin) to get a health assessment, mental and physical, and come to terms with his problems. Three times he started an assessment and then did not continue. He already was not functioning as a priest, and when it became clear that he couldn't or wouldn't help himself, the bishop removed his faculties."
Wallace said the diocese handled this case better, but the question parishioners asked in 2006 remains -- how does the church monitor its priests?
Though the misconduct went on for years, diocese officials learned about Fay from a bookkeeper and fellow priest. They learned about Moynihan from the U.S. attorney. They learned about Wallin from parishioners.
Why didn't the diocese know? It's a question for the new bishop, expected to be named soon.
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