A 65-year-old Catholic priest, recovering from alcoholism and suicidal tendencies, was sentenced Friday to five years in prison by a New Jersey court for stealing $300 a week from the parish for 20 years.
The Rev. Joseph Davis, the former pastor of St. Therese Roman Catholic Church in Succasunna, N.J., admitted to pocketing $300 a week from collections taken at services, Morristown Daily Record reported Saturday.
“Every Sunday when the collection was taken he took his share,” Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Foy was quoted as saying.
Davis, who resigned amid an investigation in July 2010, has been sentenced to five years in prison and will have to serve a little more than one year of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole, according to The Associated Press.
The Diocese of Paterson, to which Davis would report, called his plea and sentencing “a sad time” for the diocese as well as the parishioners. “A priest, especially a pastor, is given a high position of trust. When that trust is betrayed, everyone is hurt,” spokesperson Richard A. Sokerka said in a statement. “This betrayal also unfairly causes all pastors to be suspect in the eyes of many of their people.”
Davis pleaded guilty in May in state Superior Court, Morristown, to stealing $200,000 from the parish over a 20-year period, “though authorities believe the theft is larger,” the Morristown daily said.
“This amount alone, over a 20-year period, is $312,000 and doesn’t include money that Davis also acknowledged taking from votive candle contributions and the Rosary Society,” the newspaper quoted authorities as saying. The parish has a membership of 2,800 families.
When Davis was suspected of stealing from the parish last year, he attempted suicide which caused him to go into a coma for seven days. “He has spent the past 16 months undergoing treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts at a mental health facility in Pennsylvania that is run by the Catholic church.”
“I did betray the trust. I admit that and I’m sorry for that,” Davis was quoted as saying in the court Friday. “I’m looking forward to accomplishing this element of my life so in the future I can return to active ministry,” he said in a quiet voice in the court.
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Garrigan made an attempt to argue with Judge David Ironson that Davis be sentenced to probation or less time than sought. However, the judge, citing case law, concluded that a second-degree crime did not fall into the category of being an “idiosyncratic” defendant for whom prison would be an injustice.
“This was the hard-earned money of individuals, and it was not used for its intended purpose. This deceit, theft, cannot be tolerated,” Judge Ironson was quoted as saying.
The former priest reportedly splurged the money on travelling, including long weekend getaways to New York City.
“We hope that the stringent policies for the handling of money, now in place in all parishes throughout the diocese, will prevent such crimes from ever happening again,” the diocese spokesperson said.