Bronx Pastor Steps Down Following Lawsuit

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Father Peter Miqueli, who was accused of scandalous behavior of a sexual and financial nature in a lawsuit filed by a group of parishioners this month, stepped down as pastor of St. Frances de Chantal parish in the Bronx on Dec. 12.

Saying that he made the decision to step down “while this unfortunate and regrettable situation is investigated,” Father Miqueli maintained in a letter to parishioners of the Throgs Neck church that he was “not guilty of the charges” brought against him but “felt that my continued presence here would be a distraction to you, particularly during this season of Advent and Christmas.”

The letter went on to say that Father Miqueli has been cooperating for months “with the investigations that have been under way to get to the bottom of the allegations that have been brought against me, and I intend to continue in any way possible to resolve this matter.”

The letter was read to parishioners attending Masses at St. Frances de Chantal on the weekend of Dec. 12-13.

The 36-page lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, includes salacious details of a sexual affair Father Miqueli allegedly carried on with Keith Crist as well as accusations that the priest took money donated to repair a church pipe organ and used drugs provided by a parishioner. The suit also claims the priest pays part of the monthly rent for Crist’s Manhattan apartment.

The suit was filed by a group of parishioners from St. Frances de Chantal and his previous parish, St. Frances Cabrini, on Roosevelt Island, where Father Miqueli, 52, served as pastor from 2003 to 2012. He earlier was administrator there for a year.

According to published reports, the lawsuit also alleges that Father Miqueli improperly handled parish collections, did not account for the funds and deposited the money into a personal bank account.

In addition to Father Miqueli, the suit also names Cardinal Dolan and the archdiocese as defendants.

A day before Father Miqueli stepped down, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese, released on Flocknote a letter he addressed to parishioners of the archdiocese.

In that letter, Zwilling said, the archdiocese has “from the beginning, taken these allegations seriously, and has been investigating them, including conducting a forensic audit of the parish, which is still ongoing.” He noted that Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik, episcopal vicar of the Bronx, North Manhattan and Central Harlem, and “a distinguished group of legal professionals” have had a series of meetings with the group of parishioners “in an effort to try to hear their concerns and reach a resolution.”

Zwilling, in an interview with CNY Dec. 13, said that the archdiocese notified the Bronx District Attorney’s Office of the allegations against Father Miqueli in August.

“To date we have found nothing to substantiate the allegations that have been raised, and, in fact, with regard to the parish finances, we know that the allegation that Father Miqueli stole $1 million from each parish, as was alleged by the plantiffs’ attorney, is completely false,” Zwilling wrote. “We did find that Father Miqueli had deficient management and administrative practices, and have put forward several directives to remedy those deficiencies.

“We have asked the people who are making these charges to please provide us with documentation, but they have thus far failed to do so,” he said.

Speaking to CNY on Dec. 22, Zwilling said a series of allegations have been “investigated and resolved” by the archdiocese, stemming first from Father Miqueli’s years at the Roosevelt Island parish and continuing at St. Frances de Chantal. Almost as soon as one allegation is investigated, another new allegation is brought forward, Zwilling said.

Zwilling said the archdiocese has three times requested a meeting with a former girlfriend of Crist’s after she made allegations of a lurid sexual affair between Father Miqueli and Crist, so that she could document the claims or bring them to the district attorney. “She has refused to do so,” he said.

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Former Carbrini Parishioner

Define "resolved." Half the money Miqueli allegedly stole from the pipe organ installation fund belonged to the Protestant congregation on Roosevelt Island. The money has never been returned. Good Shepherd Chapel still doesn't have an organ.(Nobody was willing to continue to work on fundraising to install the one that had been donated once everyone figured out what had happened to the money already raised.)

Moreover, it is alleged that Miqueli or someone working in concert with him forged two signatures in order to remove the money. I recently spoke to both of the people who alleged that their signatures were forged and neither of them was ever contacted by the archdiocese after their meeting at 1011 First Avenue over 10 years ago when they provided the archdiocese with proof.Literally thousands of former and current Roosevelt Island residents know that. To quote one of the most devout Catholics I know , "Not a shred of evidence! Who does Cardinal Dolan think he's fooling?!!!!"

I assure you that there are very, very few people who know the two women who said their signatures were forged and Miqueli who would not accept their word over his in a heartbeat. Seriously, why would a Protestant appointed by the Protestant pastor to safeguard the funds sign an authorization to transfer all the money to the Catholic priest's control?

I don't know whether all the monies Miqueli diverted from Cabrini can be established as "theft" legally, but certainly morally they can. Miqueli hired Keith Crist to run the parish thrift shop. The thrift shop had existed for 15-20 years without a paid manager when Miqueli ousted the volunteer manager he had appointed after ousting the nun who ran it for many years before that. The volunteer manager, Ed O'Flynn--who was a volunteer cantor at St. Patrick's for many years--had been the manager of the first floor at B.Altman's. However, according to Miqueli, his bodybuilder boyfriend had to be hired to run it because Ed didn't have the necessary "expertise." ( Miqueli put a notice in the bulletin saying Ed had to resign due to illness--a complete fabrication--and once again, LOTS of people knew that.) I'm not sure exactly how long Crist ran it, but it was at least several years and I think a conservative ESTIMATE would be that Crist's salary plus benefits cost the parish about $300,000. Now, since Crist did work there--keeping track of the money--all cash-- it can be argued that it wasn't legally stolen. But morally?

This whole mess also puts the lie to the archdiocese's "SAFE" program. Miqueli never submitted Crist's name for the "required" background check. If a pastor can employ someone for years without submitting his name for a background check, how "SAFE" are our children? When Cabrini got a new administrator, he submitted Crist's name and, of course, was told he could not be employed. But apparently we are supposed to believe that failing to submit the name of a parish employee--in a parish with only a couple of employees--was sloppy record keeping. Was it sloppy record keeping to make Crist--an employee--one of two parish trustees? That's against Canon Law--as well as the archdiocese's own "Best Practices" manual.

And did the archdiocese simply miss the fact that for the entire 10 years of King Miqueli's reign Cabrini never had a parish council or finance council? They are as mythical as the boy scout troop Miqueli claimed to run on the archdiocese's website. (Roosevelt Island did have a boy scout troop at the time, but it had no affiliation with Cabrini.)

I can respect it if the archdiocese simply doesn't want to comment on pending litigaion. But its continued insistence that Miqueli did nothing wrong is just making a bad situation worse.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016