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Group at Claremont church concerned bring concerns about management of church finances, other issues to Archdiocese of NY

St. Augustine-OLV parishioners charge $$ irregularities

Bronx Times
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A group of parishioners are at odds with their pastor concerning his accounting of church funds.

The Concerned Parishioners of St. Augustine-Our Lady of Victory wrote to the Archdiocese of New York about the concerns they have about the pastor of their church.

“We sent letters to the Archdiocese and Timothy Cardinal Dolan and his response to each of us was a generic response,” reads a statement from the group. “The Concerned Parishioners are extremely concerned about the irregularities in our church.”

The Archdiocese of New York advised the group to contact an archdiocese official to investigate the parish’s finances.

Among the allegations raised by the group was the pastor, Father George Stewart, hasn’t produced an annual financial statement since 2015; dismissed a Roman Catholic nun, Sr. Dorothy Hall, who ran the church’s food pantry, when the program should have had ample funds to keep her and the pantry going; involves himself in counting the parishioner’s weekly tithes; and comingled parish funds earmarked for the pantry and other specific uses for general church purposes.

Darlyne Lawson, one of the members of the Concerned Parishioners, went so far as to request a forensic accounting of the parish’s finances.

“There is a complete lack of transparen­cy,” said Lawson, alleging: “We feel that there could be malfeasance.”

The group alleged that several people who had raised concerns with the pastor regarding his accounting practices were fired, ostracized or ignored.

Hall said that at one point she was a cosignatory on parish accounts and had access to the bank records.

“He is the only one counting the Sunday collection…(and) uses the pulpit as a bully pulpit,” said parish member Claire Harris

The group provided the Bronx Times with bank records alleging the comingling of separate accounts, adding:

• there is no bank deposit record listing the approximately $33,000 a month in rent the parish receives from Harriet Tubman Charter School;

• there was no report made concerning the church benefactors’ contributions, such as the $33,000 that was in the “food pantry director’s special account.”

• when asked about the comingling of an account that was primarily earmarked for the food pantry with general church funds, that the pastor responded in anger telling Hall, the director, that the money was used to pay food pantry bills, which the group believes was fully funded.

• the United Way sent the church a check for $1,250 earmarked for food pantry volunteers, and that the check was deposited in a restricted account on July 10, 2017, but the funds were never dispersed.

An Archdiocese of New York spokesperson stated that in the past, the group has contacted them with other issues, such as the parish council committees or conditions of bathrooms, and so far as it is known never gave the Archdiocese permission to share the letter’s contents with Fr. Stewart.

“The Archdiocese of New York takes seriously allegations of financial impropriety,” stated the spokesman. “I would therefore encourage the parishioners who contacted you...to write to the chief financial officer of the archdiocese, Mr. William Whiston, to share their specific concerns so that they might be investigated and responded to.”

In a statement, Stewart said that since becoming pastor he has been in regular contact with the archdiocese financial office in order to be sure the parish is in compliance with all financial protocols and procedures. Stewart said that in order to achieve transparency, the parish presently has the oversight of an accountant and separate bookkeeper. His accounts are reconciled each month and the software is used that makes the finances fully viewable by archdiocesan authorities, said Stewart.

He also said that in the past year the parish completed a full audit of parish and pantry.

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.
Posted 12:00 am, March 10, 2019
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