December 11, 2012

Priest admits taking money from church

A former Catholic parish priest has admitted defrauding the church of about $128,000, more than a year after he was suspended by the Bishop of Christchurch.

Father John William Fitzmaurice committed the offences while he was the parish priest at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and at Addington’s Sacred Heart Parish.

He was suspended by Bishop Barry Jones in September 2011 and the bishop issued a pastoral letter to be read at all masses.

The bishop told parishioners: “It is now with great sadness that I inform you that I have placed the matter with the police. I took this step because of financial irregularities in areas for which (Fitzmaurice) has been responsible. The police will follow their own procedures and make their own investigations.”

Bishop Jones said Fitzmaurice had contributed strongly to the life of the diocese through the exercise of a variety of important appointments and offices.

He urged parishioners to “pray for those most affected and hurt and disappointed by these events”.

The police investigation has led to guilty pleas to six charges by Fitzmaurice at the Christchurch District Court session at Nga Hau e Wha marae today.

He admitted five charges of dishonestly using documents and one of obtaining money by deception.

The charges relating to him using 242 cheques drawn on the Catholic Cathedral Parish and Addington Parish accounts, which were either cashed or paid into his own account. He also admitted dishonestly making 358 automatic teller withdrawals totalling $54,430.

Judge Jane Farish remanded Fitzmaurice on bail for sentencing on February 27. She called for a pre-sentence report and a report on his suitability for home detention, and his ability to pay reparations to the church.

Raparations on the charges he has admitted total $127,650.

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton said that since his suspension, Fitzmaurice had continued to work with the church and had been living and working in Auckland.

He sometimes returned to Christchurch, and his most recent visit had involved him doing voluntary work with the Christchurch City Mission.