A former Roman Catholic priest ousted from the ministry for allegedly molesting boys diverted thousands of dollars of church money toward personal expenses, in some cases showering his alleged victims with gifts, according to a Seattle Archdiocese investigation.
John Cornelius, who was permanently dismissed from the priesthood in September, repaid the money after the 1991 investigation, and the archdiocese later curtailed his authority to deal with parish finances, said Patrick Sursely, financial director of the archdiocese.
The findings were based on a 1991 investigation of funds used from a bequest of about $60,000, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Saturday.
"Our investigation showed there was clear, inappropriate diversion of funds," Sursely said. The archdiocese found that Cornelius had spent thousands of dollars on personal expenses, but Sursely would not say exactly how much.
Cornelius has not admitted sexually abusing his accusers but apologized in a statement in 2002, saying, "I acknowledge my responsibility for my failures and want to express my deep sorrow for what I have done."
He served in the Seattle Archdiocese from 1975 until he resigned in 2002 following the first public allegation against him.
One alleged victim of Cornelius, Ricky Barquet, said the priest paid his high school tuition and paid him handsomely for doing odd jobs. Errol Graves, whose son has accused Cornelius, said the priest gave his son two cars.
There was no immediate comment from Cornelius on the newspaper's report Saturday; no telephone listing could be located.
A recent study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found that 18 percent of reported abuse cases by priests involved gifts. About 21 percent of reported cases involved gifts or cash, liquor and vacations.
Nationwide, church officials acknowledge there was little oversight of church funds before the 1980s, the Post-Intelligencer said. Previously, priests often controlled church accounts. Under new policies, most churches have teams of people to handle accounting and finance councils to oversee the use of donations, said Tod Tamberg, spokesman at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
U.S. Catholics donate more than $6 billion to the church every year, but "the controls you would expect to be in place are simply not there," said Francis Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities, a network that monitors the financial practices of charities and the church.