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Embattled Bonita Springs Priest Cleared of Misappropriating Church Funds
A detailed investigation of church funds at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, covering the five years it was under the leadership of Father Stan Strycharz has determined there is no evidence of fraud or misappropriation of church funds.
The report, by The Financial Valuation Group of Ft. Lauderdale, is a stinging rebuke of the accusations made by Bishop Frank Dewane. He publicized his allegation that Father Stan had not justified or accounted for at least $1 million of church funds. The forensic accounting firm said there is no evidence of fraud or misappropriation of parish funds after they examined thousands of pages of documents in its investigation of St. Leo finances.
“Based on my work described in our report, I have not found evidence that Father Stan misappropriated monies or other property from St. Leo’s Parish,” wrote forensic accountant Michael Crain, a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner of The Financial Valuation Group, in its 260-page report.
Father Stan said he hopes the investigation will bring to an end nearly 16 months of verbal abuse and public accusations from the bishop. Father Stan said he hopes that the bishop will apologize for his actions and restore Father Stan’s good name.
Father Stan was ousted from his role as head of St. Leo’s and banned by Bishop Dewane from performing any priestly duties.
The Financial Valuation Group report disagreed sharply with Bishop Dewane’s suggestion that at least $1 million is missing from St. Leo’s Parish. In addition to that report, a financial review ordered by the bishop and conducted by LarsonAllen CPAs of Naples also did not find any evidence that Father Stan committed fraud or misappropriated any parish monies or other property. Both accounting firms found parish recordkeeping was lacking in some areas, a complaint made in a 2003 financial review performed at St. Leo’s before Father Stan’s arrival in 2005.
The Financial Valuation Group report states the evidence uncovered did not corroborate critical remarks made by the bishop, who announced his accusation about Father Stan publicly about this and other matters before the congregation and news media.
The LarsonAllen reports, which were not made public, did not find any evidence that disbursements of St. Leo bank accounts were for anything other than parish purposes. Their claim of breach of fiduciary duty is based on inadequate recordkeeping and not on any fraud or misappropriation of parish monies, the report said.
Father Stan says the financial accusations and other accusations by the bishop began a 16-month month ordeal in which he was not allowed to even go on church property or minister to the sick.
During Father Stan’s tenure at St. Leo’s Church membership more than doubled to 2,400 families, he led a highly successful $11 million capital campaign to raise money for a church expansion and was much beloved by church members as well as other members of the community. In fact, the bishop praised Father Stan for his leadership in the capital campaign.
In placing Father Stan on leave, the bishop banned him from practicing any priestly duties and entering church property. He was forbidden to publicly say mass, speak about his case, or leave the diocese without the bishop’s permission. His salary was cut to $500 a month this past July although no judgment has been made.
“I am breaking my silence of almost 16 months imposed on me by Bishop Dewane because I want to clear my name and reputation to the many members of St. Leo and members of the Bonita Springs community who continued to give me strength and helped me maintain my faith,” Father Stan said.
More than 1,000 people have signed up in support of Father Stan through the Save Our Southwest Diocese website.
Father Stan has repeatedly denied there was ever any evidence of wrongdoing during his five years at St. Leo’s Church. He has worked diligently and followed church law these last 16 months of turmoil, going through all avenues of appeal within the church. It appears clear that the bishop has no intention of settling this matter in a just and timely manner.
Father Stan says Bishop Dewane has publicly and falsely accused him of a series of misdeeds, which have permanently damaged his reputation and his ability to obtain employment in his field.
“The bishop made unfounded allegations about me throughout the parish and the community by means of the parish bulletins, mass mailings, the Internet, and local and state media,” Father Stan said.
Father Stan says he is not guilty of the charges being brought against him and has asked over several months that Bishop Dewane give him an opportunity to defend himself. The bishop, on the other hand, delivered several letters to church members throughout the diocese repeating the accusations. He promised a judgment report on several occasions but failed to deliver it.
As the top administrator at St. Leo’s, Father Stan’s leadership built a highly successful church. When he was removed hundreds of parishioners asked the bishop to reinstate him and wrote letters to local newspapers sharing their concerns that Father Stan was being treated unfairly. Church members as well as many members of the community joined in the effort to reinstate Father Stan. They created the organization Save Our Southwest Florida Diocese and issued frequent defenses for him. www.savetheswfldiocese.net