Chaput addresses alleged embezzlement from the archdiocese

Posted: February 05, 2012

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said Friday that he was angry that "a senior member of the archdiocesan staff stole more than $900,000 of our people's resources," but was relieved the missing money would have relatively little impact on the Catholic Church here.

"As bitter as this loss is, insurance will cover most of it," he wrote in his weekly column, posted on the archdiocesan website. "This is little comfort and absolves no one," he added, but "at least some of the damage will be made whole."

In July, the archdiocese fired its chief financial officer, Anita Guzzardi, after learning that money had vanished over more than six years. The Inquirer reported last Sunday that much of what she has been accused of taking was spent on gambling in Atlantic City and on vacations, then paid for with checks from the archdiocese.

Catholic Social Services, Catholic Health Care Services, and similar ministries "suffered no loss from the theft," Chaput said, because they are incorporated separately from the archdiocese.

Because the money was taken from the archdiocese's general operating fund, he said, it also did not affect moneys donated to the $200 million capital campaign that concluded in 2010.

The loss was not a factor in his decision, announced last month, to close 49 elementary and high schools, he added.

Guzzardi, 43, is cooperating with the investigation, according to her lawyer. No charges have been filed against her, and Chaput did not mention her by name.

She was escorted July 14 from her Center City church office, a day after the District Attorney's Office told church officials that they were investigating her.

"Our normal outside auditing firm - independent and nationally respected - had previously found no evidence of criminal activity," Chaput said.

Instead, an investigator for American Express flagged the payments from the archdiocese after wondering why the money was going to a casino.

Chaput was named Philadelphia's archbishop five days later; his appointment was not related to the discovery.

The archbishop, who assumed leadership in September of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese, was eager to address the matter sooner, according to sources, but was asked by investigators not to do so.

"We've been silent on this matter until now for obvious reasons: to allow law enforcement to do its work," Chaput wrote Friday.

"Circumstances have now changed," he said, citing The Inquirer's story last Sunday.

"People are angry about this loss, and they're right. So am I," he said. "There's no excuse for it."

But "in a work environment based on shared beliefs and service, a dishonest person can do massive damage." Religious institutions are often "too trusting," he noted, and let their guard down.

On Monday, law enforcement officials in New York City charged a bookkeeper for the Archdiocese of New York with stealing more than $1 million during the previous seven years. Anita Collins, 67, wrote hundreds of checks to herself over the years, according to authorities, who said she lived in a modest home, but spent lavishly on furniture and a doll collection.

Addressing the theft in Philadelphia, Chaput said audits by two outside firms indicated that only one person at the archdiocese was involved in the theft.

"We will vigorously pursue restitution from the wrongdoer," he said.

He said that within days of his arrival, he began a "comprehensive legal and financial review of archdiocesan operations" and was adopting new systems for guarding "the resources entrusted to the church by our people."

The archdiocese is also engaged in a search for a new comptroller, Chaput said.

"I do promise that every aspect of our shared life as a church," he said, "will be subject in the years ahead to the kind of clarity, greater accountability, and careful stewardship our people deserve."


Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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