The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the financial dealings of the former head pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Downingtown in the wake of allegations that he may have used funds from the parish and parishioners for his personal use, according to sources.
Members of the Chester County Detectives Office, the district attorney's investigative arm, have interviewed multiple current and former members of the parish staff, as well as others outside the church itself who had regular business transactions with St. Joseph’s Parish and now-resigned Monsignor Joseph McLoone over the past several months.
The investigation reportedly concerns whether McLoone misused money he received from parishioners, or others, that was intended for a church-related purpose. If he instead diverted those funds to his private concerns, such a transaction could represent a violation of the state’s theft by failure to make required disposition of funds statute, observers have said.
On Friday, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone confirmed that the investigation into McLoone’s activities was “open and ongoing.” He declined to add any details as to who had been interviewed, about what, and for how long the detectives have been looking into McLoone’s activities. No criminal charges have been filed against McLoone, he said.
A spokesman for the Philadelphia Archdiocese said on Saturday that the church was aware of the investigation.
“We have been in communication with law enforcement regarding the matter and will cooperate with them fully,” said Ken Gavin, the archdiocese’s chief communications officer.
McLoone resigned from his position as a priest earlier this year in the wake of what was described at the time as alleged personal and financial improprieties.
A lawyer who has said she represents McLoone earlier this week said he had done nothing wrong. But on Saturday, after Noone confirmed the criminal investigation, defense attorney Melissa McCafferty of Coatesville said she was out of town and could not comment on the matter.
News of the investigation comes as the church is still dealing with fallout from a number of high-profile cases involving criminal misdeeds — charged and otherwise — involving priests in Pennsylvania.
Last month, a state grand jury report found hundreds of Catholic priests abused thousands of children since the 1940s — and that church officials covered those activities up to prevent scandal and keep the priests themselves from facing criminal charges.
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro released the report that identified more than 300 Roman Catholic priests who sexually abused more than 1,000 children over decades with acts ranging from groping and masturbation to rape. This grand jury was convened by Shapiro’s office in 2016 for the purpose of reviewing cases involving the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses.
Also last month, a Delaware County priest who faced drug charges after a package containing illegal substances was delivered to his parish was deemed “not suitable for ministry” by the archdiocese. The move against Monsignor Gregory J. Parlante, who served as pastor at St. Cornelius Church in Chadds Ford until spring 2017, was announced by he archdiocese at the same time it also placed a similar tag on he Rev. Andrew McCormick, who has faced allegations of child abuse. McCormick had served at parishes in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia and Bridgeport.
The case against McLoone became public in April, when St. Joseph’s parishioners were told that McLoone who had been on personal leave, was 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 from the pulpit, did not specify what those relationships were or who they were with, except that the others were not members of St. Joseph’s parish. Subsequent to that determination, McLoone offered his resignation from St. Joseph’s, where he had been pastor since 2011, and it was accepted by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
The archdiocese noted two problems with McLoone's actions: the establishment of a private bank account in the name of St. Joseph’s parish that he alone controlled, and into which he funneled more than $110,000 over the course of six years beginning in 2011; and the use of some of those funds — estimated as at least $1,500 — for “personal expenses of an inappropriate nature” involving his “relationship with adults.”
Dunleavy pointed out the establishment of the account outside the normal parish finances was in itself a violation of archdiocese protocol.
St. Joseph’s Church is the largest parish in Chester County, and the second largest in the Philadelphia area.
At the time of the announcement, Noone told the Daily Local News that his office had not been contacted by the archdiocese about any irregularities in McLoone’s financial dealings. However, by May it appears detectives were interviewing members of the community about how they did business with the church and their interactions with McLoone.
One of those interviewed was James J. Terry, owner of the Terry Funeral Home in Downingtown. He said on Friday that detectives spoke with him in May about how his firm paid fees and expenses to the church for funeral services held there. He said that although the detective, whose name he did not recall, did not lay out why he was seeking the information, the investigator did mention McLoone specifically. “His name came up,” Terry said. Terry said his funeral home was not a target of the investigation, but that the detectives had simply been trying to learn about he handled business transactions with McLoone and the church.
When a member of St. Joseph’s church comes to his funeral home to arrange funeral services, Terry explained, the practice is to make things easier by agreeing to handle all payments to the church for its services, as well as those who assist in the service — such as organists, choir members and altar boys. The funeral home will write checks to those people from its fee for the arrangements, as well as one to the church itself for fees that can range from $150 to $300 depending on details of the service.
In addition, there are times when the family of the deceased will make a cash “honorarium” to the priest who performs the service, personal payments of $100 or $150, Terry said. Those payments come with no strings attached, however.
Similar practices are followed by those who have weddings performed at St. Joseph’s, a source told the Daily Local News, although those transactions do not come with the business oversight of a funeral home.
Other interviews have been conducted with at least four women who worked in the parish’s main office. Attempts to reach those women have been unsuccessful. At least one interview took place as recently as the end of August.
But one member of the parish with knowledge of the matter but who asked not to be identified because they have not been given permission to speak about the investigation said the women were each called to the detectives’ office in the Chester County Criminal Justice Center, rather than interviewed at the church. None of the women are under investigation for any conduct related to McLoone’s transactions.
The women were asked about how McLoone dealt with parish finances, the source said, and different financial details of the parish office. One was also asked to provide a list of all weddings that were conducted in the church by McLoone during the period of 2016-2017, the source said.
The interviews came at a time when a new head priest, the Rev. Stephen Leva, was beginning his tenure as pastor at the church in the wake of McLoone’s resignation. Since then, as many as four of the church’s seven full-time staff members have left the office.
A timeline of the situation involving McLoone’s alleged misconduct was provided to the Daily Local News by a member of the congregation who is familiar with what happened and when at the time the announcement of his resignation was made.
That person said a staff member working in the parish office came across McLoone’s name on a Venmo personal payment account 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 the church’s business manager.
After reviewing the account, the staff contacted the archdiocese’s Office of Investigations about what they had found, the person said. During early February, a member 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 while 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 provided to him by parishioners who wanted to discreetly help members of the church in need.
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.
The matter was not discussed again publicly until April, when Dunleavy read the announcement about McLoone’s resignation.
Meanwhile, McLoone’s whereabouts have generally been kept private. However, the source who spoke to the Daily Local News said that more than one parishioner had seen the former priest at the beach in Ocean City, N.J.
“He is saying that he did not steal any money, and is going to return to Downingtown to restore his reputation,” the source said. “Which is terrifying.”
Noone has asked anyone with information about the matter to contact the Chester County Detectives at 610-344-6866.