St. Frances pastor resigns

A local priest has resigned following allegations that he was serving a much different master.

A joint lawsuit filed by parishioners of St. Frances de Chantal and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini on Roosevelt Island, claims that parish pastor Fr. Peter Miqueli stole nearly a million dollars in collection plate donations since 2003 which was allegedly used to pay for drugs and for sexually deviant acts with a male prostitute named Keith Crist.

The suit against Fr. Miqueli alleges he engaged in sexual bondage with his sex master Crist who would force Fr. Miqueli to drink his urine.

Fr. Miqueli spent $60,000 in 2012 for illicit and prescription drugs which he partook in with Crist; purchased a $264,000 home in Brick, New Jersey and paid $1,075.50 a month for his Crist’s East Harlem apartment, it further alleges.

Parishoners clapped when a letter announcing Fr. Miqueli’s resignation as St. Frances de Chantal’s pastor was read before the congregation during 5 p.m. Mass on Saturday, December 12.

In the letter, Fr. Miqueli maintained his innocence against the accusations, but felt his continued presence at St. Frances de Chantal would prove too distracting to the congregation during the Advent season.

In addition, Fr. Miqueli said he was cooperating with investigators, looking forward to his ultimate vindication and hopes to resume his ministry.

Joseph Zwilling, Archdiocese of New York’s Office of Communications director, said the Archdiocese is investigating these allegations and is conducting an on-going forensic audit of St. Frances de Chantal.

Zwilling added the Archdiocese has not yet found anything to validate the allegations raised against Fr. Miqueli.

Prior to his assignment to the Throggs Neck parish, Fr. Miqueli served as pastor for St. Frances Xavier Cabrini from 2003 until 2012.

The Throggs Neck parish’s congregation was not surprised by the allegations.

Jack McCarrick, a lifelong St. Frances de Chantal parishioner, said Fr. Miqueli’s personality became more apparent shortly after his appointment, which he described as “bossy, inflexible and often absent.”

“I observed a man with no people skills, who was unorganized and very thin-skinned,” said McCarrick. “He was someone who did not want to deal with his flock and seemed to have a personal vendetta with a few parishioners.”

McCarrick said Fr. Miqueli once threatened to shut down the parish council last year and forbade most of the council’s members from their annual tradition of selling Christmas cards inside the parish at weekend Masses with the exception of the council’s president and treasurer.

Parishioners noted Fr. Miqueli did not follow the proper cash donation handling procedures as he would have unsealed bags of donated money sitting outside of his rectory office while on vacation.

A concerned parishioner who wished to remain anonymous said shortly after Fr. Miqueli came to St. Frances de Chantal, he fired everyone from the rectory and appointed two trustees, Theresa Schirnos, a St. Frances de Chantal parishioner and Dr. Delores Ruth Perez, who was from St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.

The parishioner also said Crist was prominently seen around St. Frances’s rectory office following Fr. Miqueli’s appointment and that Crist was allegedly going to be tapped as the church manager.

Parishioners said a few members of the congregation discovered Crist did not pass the Archdiocese’s Safe Environment Program which ensures the safety of children and young adults entrusted into the care of parishes, schools, religious education classes and other programs.

Janeen Ruzzi, a parishioner since 2005, said she would see Crist sometimes around the school and the church.

Ruzzi added she was informed to call the Archdiocese to report if she saw Crist at the school, rectory or church for unspecified reasons.

Peggy McKeegan, a parishioner for over 50 years, who had difficulty believing the accusations at first, said it appears “people higher up appear to be covering for him.”

“There’s a split in the parish and it’s bleeding parishioners,” said McKeegan. “Fr. Miqueli was unavailable so often and though people tried to reach out to him in friendship, he didn’t return the favor.”

No successor for Fr. Miqueli has yet been named, but St. Frances de Chantal’s faithful hope the next pastor “is financially transparent and a holy person.”

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