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Use of Discretionary Funds for Personal Purposes
Misuse of church funds can lead to legal problems.

Key point 7-21. Embezzlement refers to the wrongful conversion of funds that are lawfully in one's possession. Embezzlement is a common occurrence in churches because of weak internal controls.

A Florida appeals court affirmed the conviction of a parish priest for embezzlement of church funds. A Catholic priest was charged with grand theft of funds from his church based on his use of church funds for his own personal benefit, rather than for the benefit of the church. The evidence at trial included the following:

  • Testimony of the church bookkeeper, who stated that the priest asked to see the cash collected in the offerings, and would keep some cash and return a reduced sum to the bookkeeper to be deposited into the church's operating accounts.
  • Testimony of another church employee, who stated that the priest would keep cash from the weekly offering and would instruct her to deposit only a part of the weekly offering. She testified that the priest retained $4,600 in cash from just one week's offerings.
  • Testimony that to avoid detection, the priest instructed the bookkeeper to create fake deposit slips to send to the diocese to hide the fact that cash was given directly to him. The priest was present when the cash from the offerings was counted.
  • Testimony of a church employee that she gave the priest a shoebox with about $11,000 in cash, and the priest returned the box with only $2,000 in cash remaining. After this employee attended a bookkeepers' training class sponsored by the diocese, she informed the priest that she could no longer participate in counting the offertory. When the priest cursed at her, she resigned the same day.

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