Unbroken

 

(page 3 of 5)


 

Then, in late May of 2010, the tune abruptly changed.

What the Archdiocese of Hartford refers to as a routine audit of Sacred Heart-Sagrado Corazón’s finances had turned up a number of discrepancies. For starters, Gray had been paying his personal American Express card bills—for expenses such as hotel stays and meals at pricey New York restaurants—through the church’s Webster Bank account. He had also written more than 225 checks to himself from the church’s account, and sent thousands of dollars worth of MoneyGrams to men who had no known connection to the church.

As word of the investigation spread, some members of the Latino community, in particular, refused to believe the allegations, blaming the archdiocese. As they had prayed for their pastor’s recovery from cancer, they now prayed for his deliverance from the gathering storm. But then the news got worse.

According to the arrest warrant issued June 30, 2010, by the State of Connecticut Superior Court, an investigation by Waterbury detectives discovered that between 2003 and 2008, Kevin Gray had  embezzled $1.4 million from the church. Of that amount, $221,728 had come from a contract he had signed with Wireless Capital Partners LLC, a cell tower leasing firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. Transmitters installed in a communications tower inside the church steeple weren’t broadcasting the good news of the gospel—they’d been winging cell phone messages across the region, and Gray wasn’t sharing the proceeds with his flock. Still, it wasn’t until the full results of the investigation appeared in local newspapers and news stations that parishioners began to  understand the extent and nature of the damage.
 

Sacred Heart-Sagrado Corazón isn’t the only Catholic church in Connecticut that has had to suffer a pastor’s double life in recent years.
Last December, the former Rev. Michael Moynihan of St. Michael the Archangel in Greenwich was found guilty of diverting $500,000 from the church into two secret bank accounts. The stolen money funded a lifestyle that included expensive meals, clothes, luxury cars, equestrian instruction, and an apartment in Manhattan, where he allegedly lived with a man who’d once been the children’s choir director at St. Michael’s. Moynihan, 54, resigned as pastor in 2007 and has pleaded guilty to federal obstruction of justice for lying to investigators about the money. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

In 2006, the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, the pastor of St. John in Darien, was found guilty of having stolen $1.4 million to fund a similar lifestyle, one that included a condo in Fort Lauderdale and a pied-à-terre on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which he claimed was close to his chemotherapy treatments. (Auditors discovered that the lease had begun nine months before he was diagnosed with cancer.) Fay shared the residences with wedding planner Cliff Fantini. The disgraced pastor died of prostate cancer in 2009 while serving time in prison in North Carolina.

Both fallen priests are said to have believed they were entitled to live as they pleased in compensation for their vocations.

Kevin Gray’s explanation to Waterbury detectives Peter Morgan and Michael Chance was that he resented the archdiocese for his assignment to Waterbury. In particular, he told them, he was bitter about having been transferred while his mother lay dying in New Haven. He had grown to hate being a priest, and he felt that the church owed him whatever he had taken.

Dr. Leslie Lothstein, a West Hartford psychologist, served for 26 years as director of the Institute of Living in Hartford, until his retirement in February of this year. During his tenure, the facility treated some 600 priests. “My experience with clergy who are unhappy with assignments is that they get depressed, they’re stressed out, they drink—but they don’t steal,” Lothstein says. “The type of individual who says, ‘I had a terrible assignment,’ and steals big money, this is an angry, entitled person. It isn’t for the money per se; it’s the anger they feel for the institution from which they’ve stolen.”

Like Fay and Moynihan, Gray spent the church’s money on things of this world—stays at Park Central Hotel and W Hotel Times Square, dinners at Tavern on the Green and L’Absinthe,  Armani suits—as well as on other men: He rented a Manhattan apartment for an Asian student he met in Central Park, and sent checks to several young Latino men, including one from another Waterbury parish and one he had met at a male strip club.

The difference between Gray and his fellow men of the cloth, of course, is that Darien and Greenwich are among the wealthiest parishes in the country. Waterbury is the polar opposite. To steal from a congregation whose members often struggle just to make ends meet seems especially contemptible.

But that wasn’t what disturbed parishioners most. What hurt, and deeply, was that Gray had lied to them: The cancer wasn’t terminal—he didn’t even have cancer. Apparently, he hadn’t loved them after all.

Alex Lopez, a deacon in the church like his father before him, recalls “walking around for a couple of months with my head in a fog. We all believed he was sick—he told us he was sick!”

“Him with the male escorts?—that’s probably the least of it,” says Charles Corrato Jr., 44, a clinical social worker with Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Bridgeport and a lector (reader at masses) at Sacred Heart-Sagrado Corazón. “This is truly an inner-city parish. You have an aging Anglo population—parishioners who had been there their whole lives, and they were going to die there, and they were loyal and they were giving. And you have a Latin population that’s a little poorer but strong and vibrant and proud. He was really stealing from the poor. He knew all of that, and it didn’t matter to him.”

Unbroken

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