Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Massachusetts priest gets probation after $100k theft charges

Mass. priest charged with theft lived with parish employee -

A Massachusetts priest charged with stealing more than $100,000 reached an agreement with prosecutors in September, admitting in court that enough evidence existed to convict him of a lesser larceny charge than he had originally faced.

But while Fr. Tomaz Gorny was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay back $12,000, the Diocese of Springfield has declined to answer questions about the allegation that he lived with a female parish employee for almost 10 years.

And while the diocese told The Pillar that Gorny is facing a “canonical process,” the priest’s probation agreement indicated that he would petition for a voluntary laicization, leaving questions unanswered, both about Gorny’s unusual history in the Springfield diocese, and about his future.

While Gorny was charged last year with stealing more than $100,000 from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, the priest made in September a plea agreement, admitting in court that the prosecutor’s evidence could convict him of a lesser larceny charge.

According to court records obtained by The Pillar, Gorny was ordered to pay $12,000 dollars in restitution to the Springfield diocese, and was placed under probation until September 2025.

The priest’s Massachusetts probation order listed “voluntary laicization” as a condition of his probation, suggesting that the priest had assured prosecutors he would seek to be laicized.

But it is not clear whether the priest is actually petitioning for voluntary laicization, or is instead facing a canonical penal process.

Court records indicate that in 2013 — three years after he was ordained — Gorny moved from the parish rectory where he was assigned into the home of a parish employee.

The priest reportedly lived at the woman’s home from 2013 until late 2022, when the diocese required him to move into a rectory amid an investigation into financial misconduct. 

According to court records, the woman told police last year that Gorny became “very comfortable living at the house, and soon began to act like the house was his.”

“This caused issues with her two daughters, who were uncomfortable with Gorny living at the house,” a police affidavit alleged.

The woman told The Pillar in September that she was “not speaking publicly” on the allegations against Gorny. 

The Pillar asked the Springfield diocese Monday whether the diocese had had reason to suspect that Fr. Gorny was not living in his parish rectories during the nine years he allegedly lived in the woman’s home, and whether the priest was properly supervised by diocesan officials. 

The Pillar also asked whether Gorny’s living situation violated the safe environment policies of the diocese, and if he would face any canonical penal process, either for the canonical crime of concubinage, or for larceny.

But the Springfield diocese said Tuesday it could not answer any questions because of an active but unspecified “canonical process” pertaining to Gorny. 

Canon law itself does not prohibit a diocese from providing public information during the course of canonical penal or administrative processes. In 2020, Springfield’s Bishop William Byrne said he would prioritize “transparency” in diocesan handling of clerical misconduct cases. 

“Transparency and communication are demanded of us, and this will be my priority,” the bishop said.

According to court records obtained by The Pillar, the priest opened between 2019 and 2022 several credit cards on behalf of the Diocese of Springfield and his parish, running up a balance of $99,452 on four accounts. 

Gorny also reimbursed himself more than $25,000 for unauthorized or excessive expenses, a police affidavit indicates, including more than $1,300 in monthly food costs during 2022.

The priest allegedly instructed parish employees to give him cash from the parish offertory collection, which he reportedly spent on clothing, wine, and video games. 

And according to a police affidavit, the priest also fired one parish employee — whom he referred to for a period of time as “Mom” — after she raised concerns about questionable purchases at the parish.

Forensic accountant Robert Warren, a professor at Radford University and a retired IRS investigator, has researched extensively financial crime among clerics

He told The Pillar that it is unsurprising that Gorny received a relatively light sentence in Massachusetts. 

Warren noted a possible trend in financial crimes cases related to priests. 

He said he had observed several recent criminal cases in which priests accused of stealing significant amounts of money received no jail time, and were in some cases required to pay back only a fraction of what they’d stolen from parishes and dioceses.

The researcher said that across the country, neither criminal prosecutors nor diocesan bishops seem eager to see priests face trial for financial crimes. 

“Prosecutors appear reluctant to take these cases to trial because Catholic priests can muddy the issue of what they can buy or not buy by citing canon law, which is confusing to juries,” Warren said.

Those prosecutors have “limited resources, and are reluctant to take cases to trial which have a low ‘return on investigation,’ which means that charges may not result in enough jail time to justify the extra effort to go to trial,” he added.

Bishops, he said, “don’t want to be punitive with offending priests because there are so few priests. Assuming the public scandal isn't too great, and no sexual misconduct was involved — and sometimes even if there was — bishops are keen on welcoming back the offending priest because Masses still need to be celebrated, babies still need to be baptized, and marriages still need officiating,” he said.

In his experience, Warren said, “what the bishop wants is for the insurance company to pay the claim — thus the need for a police investigation — and for the priest to pay the remainder of the stolen money.”

Warren cited the case of Fr. Kevin Gray, a priest of the Hartford archdiocese, who, Warren said, “once stole a million dollars, abandoned his parish, took up residence with a much younger man, got caught by the police, went to [prison], was released early to go to treatment … and thereafter was returned to ministry as a hospice chaplain.”

He also mentioned Fr. John Regan, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet, who pled guilty in 2011 to stealing $300,000 from an Illinois parish, and was assigned to another Joliet parish the next year, while still on probation.  

For his part, Gorny successfully petitioned a judge this week to release his passport, in order for the priest to take a 12-week trip to his native Poland. 

It is not clear how Gorny, who has already paid back his $12,000 obligation to the diocese, is presently supporting himself financially.