As predicted, Virginia authorities have dropped their embezzlement charges against Fr. Rodney Rodis to make way for the feds, who arraigned Rodis today new charges of stealing half a million dollars from his two parishes, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. According to prosecutors, Fr. Rodis used his position as a priest to shuttle parishioner donations to the Philippines--and of course to his home, where he lived with a "wife" and children. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has the story:
Federal prosecutors are taking over the Rodis case in part because thefederal court is better equipped to recover stolen money from othernations, authorities said. Judge Richard L. Williams is scheduled to hear Rodis' not-guilty plea today and probably will set a trial date. Williams has signed a restraining order stopping Rodis and anyentity holding assets for him from transferring any of Rodis' money orproperty.
Rodis is ordered also to return to this country any of his assetslocated outside the United States, including the Republic of thePhilippines. If he can show that the order restrains more of his assetsthan $515,231, the court will consider modifying the restraining order.
He might need that cash. The Catholic Diocese of Richmond has cutoff Rodis' retirement and health-care benefits, according to Stephen S.Neill, spokesman for the diocese. His name no longer appears on thelist of active and retired priests on the diocesan Web site. Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, head of the Richmond Diocese, this yearprohibited Rodis from saying Mass or performing any other sacraments ofthe church.
We editorialized on the matter and its implications in February. While it seems that Rodis now stands accused of stealing less than was previously reported, the new federal charges again highlight the continuing need for bishops to institute stricter diocesan financial controls and oversight. The Diocese of Richmond's current draft document on parish finance councils can be found here (PDF). As far as I know, the document does not reverse the policy that made Rodis's alleged misdeeds possible: as is the case in many dioceses, a priest can open checking accounts in a parish's name using only his own signature.