|FATHER JOHN REID|
A Roman Catholic priest who defrauded his parish of more than £50,000 and lavished thousands on his housekeeper and her daughters was living with "them as a family", a court heard.
Father John Reid, who was expected be living a simple, celibate, single life, fell in love with Gillian Leddy and was in fact splashing cash on oysters, wine and foreign travel for himself, her and her two daughters.
When the priest was replaced at St Cuthbert's Church, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, his successor found it was dirty and littered with alcohol bottles, Durham Crown Court heard.
He was spared jail when his 18-month jail term was suspended by the judge.
Jane Waugh, prosecuting, said concerns were raised by parishioners in January 2013 about how finances were being handled.
The priest, 69, had joined the parish in 2009 and accounts showed spending increased fourfold in some aspects, and doubled overall after he took over.
"In particular, there had been dramatic increases within the categories of General Administration, House Keeping and Hospitality," she said. "This would appear to be because Gillian, Alice and Veronica Leddy, who are mother and daughters and close friends of the defendant from his previous Parish at Willington, were effectively living at the presbytery and the defendant's expenditure increased to reflect the fact that he was helping to support them financially.
"This additional expenditure was claimed back from the Church, in expenses, by the defendant." When the priest was replaced temporarily, his successor said the presbytery was "in a terrible condition". Ms Waugh said: "It was dirty and untidy with large quantities of alcohol present.
"(His replacement) describes the presbytery as looking more like a family home than a presbytery. "There was female clothing in the bedrooms and it was apparent that females had been staying there."
Passports belonging to the Leddys were found alongside his in the safe. The priest appointed Veronica Leddy as co-signatory of the parish cheque book and he began running the church without a finance committee of parishioners.
The court heard that led to a split in the church, with some backing the priest and others angry at how he was running affairs.
Ms Waugh said: "The witness Nora McKie, a lifetime parishioner, stated that the defendant had a lifestyle not typical of any priest she had known, and that the reason she took action to highlight these serious concerns was to protect those people, who with total trust were giving money to the Church."
Parishioners became concerned about the priest asking for blank cheques to be signed off, with Fr Reid handing over "bags of receipts" without adequate information about what they referred to.
An investigation involving the Bishop of Newcastle was launched and auditors were brought in, highlighting serious concerns.
Ms Waugh said there was evidence of "high living", contrary to Canon Law, yet he bought a £1,200 William Turner canteen of cutlery. He also accepted taking the Leddys out to eat "a few times a week".
Over the four years he was at St Cuthberts, Fr Reid's basic remuneration should have totalled £31,455. But he disbursed to himself more than £113,000 from parish cheques.
He wrote more than 150 cheques to himself, most of which were co-signed by Veronica Leddy.
Following the findings of the auditors a serious incident report was made to the Charity Commission by the diocese, and the matter referred to the police for a full investigation.
After he was removed from the post, sterling and euros totalling £2,349 were found in the safe. Fr Reid said this was "his holiday money".
Ms Waugh said: "The defendant was arrested in May 2014 at St Patrick's Presbytery, Stockton. "It appeared that the Defendant was virtually living as a family with Gillian Leddy and her daughters, Veronica and Alice."
During the inquiry, it emerged the priest gave property and money to the Leddys on a "large scale", buying two homes each for Veronica and Alice, a car each and financed a cafe business for them each.
He also gave them substantial amounts of cash each. But Ms Waugh said the money for these gifts came from an inheritance of the priest, not the result of fraud.
In an interview, the portly, white-haired priest said: "The Parish keeps me", and: "Ultimately, I'm in charge of it, so I can spend it."
Ms Waugh said "clearly his household accounts suggest that a family was being supported by the parish, not just a parish priest".
The priest told police he was in love with his housekeeper, Gillian Leddy, the court heard. Ms Waugh said the priest told officers that "Gillian and her daughters were the family that he never had".
The judge heard Fr Reid will pay the diocese £50,000 in full, plus £5,000 for the cost of the audit, within three months.
The Westminster priest who alerted me to this story sent it to me with the headline:
"A STRAIGHT PRIEST! A RARE BIRD INDEED".
I can understand his surprise given that most of our recent scandals have been about gay bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians.
Of course the real heart of the story is about the administration / maladministration of church funds.
Money is a temptation to all regardless of gender or orientation.
The above article tells us that Father Reid's salary for FOUR YEARS should have been £31,455!!!
That's £7,863.75 per year or £151 per week!
Obviously he had other benefits as well?
But even at that £151 is by no means a fortune - especially if you want to have a girlfriend with two daughters.
This is another case of celibacy not working.
And another case someone being tempted by money - with the added complication of THREE WOMEN in your life.
1. All church funds should be overseen by a genuine finance committee which is properly audited.
2. Priests being afforded a living wage. The Bible does say: "The labourer is worthy of his hire".
The Minimum National Living Wage in the UK from 1.4.2017 is £15,600 for a 40 hour week.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:
Minimum Wage for 40 hour week: Euro 17,992
Living Wage for 40 hour week: Euro 23,816