Home Local News ‘How do you trust?’ St. Joe’s member asks

‘How do you trust?’ St. Joe’s member asks

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DOWNINGTOWN >> Venmo is known as “PayPal for millenials,” a peer-to-peer payment service that lets 20-somethings split the cost of dinner or a concert or a date without exchanging actual cash. It’s part bank transfer service, part social network, and very popular with the “shared economy” age group.

So what was Monsignor Joseph McLoone, a middle-aged man, doing with a Venmo account, wondered a staff member at St. Joseph’s Church parish office in January after stumbling onto McLoone’s photo and transaction history? And who were these people he was sending hundreds of dollars to?

Those questions were the beginning of the weeks-long unravelling of McLoone’s tenure at St. Joseph’s, the largest Roman Catholic parish in Chester County, second largest in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and a congregation still dealing with the fallout over a priest sexual abuse scandal that involved its former pastor.

Over the weekend, parishioners were informed that McLoone had been placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese after he acknowledged that he had set up a private bank account in the church’s name, and had used funds from that account — which in all totaled about $110,000 over a six-year period beginning in 2017 — for “personal expenses of an inappropriate nature … related to relationships with adults.” The message, read by Monsignor Thomas Dunleavy, did not specify what those relationships were or who they were with, except to say that those others were not members of St. Joseph’s.


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Subsequent to that determination, McLoone offered his resignation from St. Joseph’s, where he had been pastor since 2011, and it was accepted. His current whereabouts are unclear.

Reaction to the news that there had been financial and personal improprieties involving McLoone appears to be a mixture of sadness and anger that the proud parish is once again forced to question the conduct of its leaders.

“I think that a lot of us feel like, ‘Here we go again,’” said one member of the church’s community, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The person referred to the controversy that followed the arrest of Monsignor William Lynn for child endangerment in 2011; Lynn was tried and convicted for placing a priest with a history of child abuse in a new parish without addressing his past. (Lynn is currently awaiting a new trial in the case, which was overturned on appeal.)

She also noted that a former pastor at the church, Rev. Armand Garcia, had been placed on administrative leave in March while Philadelphia police investigate a report of alleged misconduct with a minor. Garcia, formerly of St. Martin of Tours parish in the city’s Summerdale section, was removed from his post March 16 – the same day that investigators executed a search warrant on the parish rectory. No criminal charges have been filed in that case.

“(McLoone) was the person who was supposed to come in and help us with healing,” the member said Monday. “Now this. It’s offensive. We have been through enough.” Others reacted with outrage, disgust and sadness, the person said. “The clergy are supposed to be our moral leadership, and yet we come back to this. How do you trust?”

A timeline of the situation involving McLoone’s alleged misconduct was provided to the Daily Local News by another member of the congregation who is familiar with what happened and when. That person had not been authorized to discuss the situation.

The source said a staff member working in the parish office came across McLoone’s name on Venmo early in the year while looking through her contacts on that web app site. McLoone had marked his account “public” so that others could view transactions he had had in the past with other app users. The contacts were suspicious enough that the staff member brought the matter to the attention of Julie Wiant, St. Joseph’s business manager.

After reviewing the account, Wiant and the staff contacted the archdiocese’s Office of Investigations about what they had found, the source said. During early February, members of the archdiocese internal auditing division came to the church and conducted a fuller investigation, at a time when McLoone was away on vacation. The investigators determined that although McLoone had been using funds improperly, none of the money had come from official church accounts, such as the school fund, the building fund, or regular collections.

The week of Feb. 12, the auditors returned when McLoone was there, giving a pretext of a “surprise audit.” They began to question McLoone about the private account that he had established and what the use of the money was for, as well as the Venmo transactions. On Feb. 15, McLoone admitted that he had been using the funds for his own personal relationships, and that some of the funds had been provide to him by parishioners who wanted to discreetly help members of the church in need.

According to the source, it is an informal and unofficial practice among some parish priests to accept private donations from congregation members that are intended to go to specific people, families, or situations outside the normal donations made to the collection plate during services. For example, a parishioner might give some cash to the priest at holiday time with the instruction to get it to a needy family. Or a check might be written to get to a family that has suffered some crisis — fire, auto accident, etc.

“They are trying to do something good with their money, and he took advantage of that,” said the first person who commented on the reaction to the news. “Now, none of us know who gave what money and for what reason.”

On the weekend of Feb. 24, the parish was told that McLoone had taken “personal leave” for an indefinite period of time. Following questions about why, the church school principal sent a letter to parents assuring them that his actions had nothing to do with child safety issues.

A follow-up announcement to that effect also was made at all Masses that weekend.

The matter was not discussed again publicly until Saturday, when Dunleavy read the announcement about McLoone’s resignation. But the weekend prior, the issue boiled up when an unidentified man stood across Manor Avenue from the church holding a sign that read, “Where is Msgr. McLoone?”

In a statement issued to the press Sunday, Ken Gavin, chief communications director for the archdiocese, acknowledged much of the person’s account. On Monday, however, Gavin declined to confirm the substance of that scenario, saying that certain aspects of the financial transaction are still in question and being scrutinized.

“As this process is not complete, I will not comment on its specifics or its timeline,” he wrote in an email.

However, the statement Gavin issued on Sunday matched some of what the source indicated.

“Monsignor McLoone had established a bank account in the name of the parish that was not on the parish books,” he wrote. “As such, activity from this account was not reflected in regular reports reviewed with the parish finance council or provided to the archdiocese. This account was opened in November 2011. Monsignor McLoone was the only signer on this account and he acted alone with respect to all of the account’s activity.

“Off book accounts are in violation of standard archdiocesan financial control practices and procedures. This bank account was frozen in February 2018 and a review of parish financial records was recently undertaken by personnel from the Archdiocesan Office for Parish Services and Support.

“Based upon that work, it appears that deposits to this account consisted of some donations as well as other revenue generated by the parish. Deposits into this account over the past six plus years that it was active totaled just over $110,000. The archdiocese does not believe that Sunday collections, contributions to the parish capital campaign, or school and PREP tuition fees were deposited therein.” The statement continued, “While certain expenditures already reviewed appear consistent with normal parish expenses, or can be documented as such, there were others that raised concern. Monsignor McLoone was questioned directly about these matters. He acknowledged that the existence of this account was in violation of established Archdiocesan financial controls and procedures. He further acknowledged that approximately $1,500 of expenditures from this account were for personal expenses of an inappropriate nature.

“Those expenses were related to relationships with adults that represent a violation of ‘The Standards of Ministerial Behavior and Boundaries’ established by the archdiocese. None of this activity involved other members of the parish community,” he wrote.

According to Gavin, the payments and withdrawals from this bank account are still being scrutinized. There are still approximately $50,000 in expenditures and ATM withdrawals that need to be better substantiated or explained.

“Pending ongoing review, further action will be considered including referral to law enforcement,” Gavin said.

Police could have a case to file charges against McLoone, said one county criminal defense attorney.

“It sounds to me that a case could be made by the prosecution that this is a theft,” said Mark Conte, a former Chester County deputy district attorney now with the West Chester firm of Kelly & Conte.

“If a person receives funds that are earmarked for a specific purpose, but the other person used the funds for their own means — and that certainly sounds like what we have here — it could be determined that this was a theft by failure to make required disposition of funds,” he said.

First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone on Monday again said that no one from the church or archdiocese had contacted the DA’s Office about the matter.

To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-544.



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