Priest Pleads Guilty To Swindling Parishes

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 27, 2007

A retired Roman Catholic priest who ministered to two small Virginia churches while living a dual life as a celibate pastor and a family man pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from parishioners.

Rodney L. Rodis entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Richmond to one count each of mail fraud and money laundering. Each crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and fines of at least $500,000.

"He's extremely remorseful for what he's done, and he wants to communicate to the members of the church how sorry he is," said Robert J. Wagner, an assistant federal public defender handling Rodis's case. "He will be working with the government to assist them in recovering and returning to the church the money that was taken."

Rodis, 51, was known as a charismatic pastor who revived dwindling congregations at the Immaculate Conception parish in Buckner and St. Jude parish in Mineral since arriving at the Louisa County churches as a substitute priest more than 14 years ago.

Rodis solicited donations for the churches and set up a post office box in Mineral and a private account at Heartland Bank in Fredericksburg to deposit the money, prosecutors said. He converted the money to his use between 2002 and 2006. He occasionally wired money to relatives in the Philippines from a branch of the Philippine National Bank and a business called Lucky Money in Virginia Beach. Some of the money was used to support himself and his family in Virginia, and some was used by relatives in the Philippines who bought real estate and other things.

Rodis also said he concealed his wife and three children from parishioners. Church members thought he was residing in the rectory, but Rodis lived with his family in a split-level brick home in a suburb of Fredericksburg.

His neighbors didn't know that he was a priest. He told them that his wife, Joyce Sillador-Rodis, was a nurse and that he worked in the import-export business. The scheme came to light when an Immaculate Conception donor requested a receipt for a $1,000 contribution in June 2006.

How much money Rodis stole is in dispute. Court filings say he must pay at least $400,000 in restitution to the Richmond diocese. Earlier estimates by prosecutors of the money taken ranged from $515,000 to more than $700,000.

In a telephone interview, Wagner declined to comment on Rodis's motives for the theft or estimate how much money was taken.

"We're still working on the numbers," Wagner said.

The Richmond diocese referred questions to lawyer William F. Etherington, who did not return a call seeking comment.

Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams is scheduled for Feb. 21.

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