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.