Volume > Issue > Priests Stealing From the Sunday Collection

Priests Stealing From the Sunday Collection


By Michael W. Ryan | September 2003
Michael W. Ryan is a retired federal law enforcement official experienced in the conduct of financial audits and security investigations. Following his retirement, Ryan became interested in Church security and developed comprehensive procedures which, when properly implemented and monitored, virtually guarantee that every dollar placed in the collection basket or plate on Saturday evening or Sunday morning is, in fact, deposited in the parish bank account. Those procedures and more can be downloaded free of charge at his website, www.ChurchSecurity.info.

In recent years and especially during the past few years, much has been said and written about the highly immoral and destructive activities of an alarming number of Catholic priests who used their positions of respect and authority to lure young children and adolescents into perverted sexual liaisons. In spite of all that has been said and written, however, the question of how those clergymen financed their often lavish lifestyles has never been addressed. This article dares to address that question and, insofar as it relates to the American Catholic Church, reveals a surprisingly clear and shocking connection between the hierarchy’s laissez-faire attitude toward revenue protection and the ability of predator-priests to fund their deviant activities.

In August 2002, Robert Burkholder, a retired 83-year-old Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Detroit, was charged with sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy in 1986 while the pair vacationed in Hawaii. According to prosecutors, the trip was an eighth-grade graduation present to the boy. Wayne County, Michigan, Prosecutor Michael Duggan described Burkholder as being “one of the worst pedophiles we have ever had in this state.”

On November 1, 2002, Burkholder, who by then had admitted molesting at least a dozen boys going as far back as the 1940s, pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and five years probation. One might well ask: How can a modestly salaried priest afford a trip for two to Hawaii? From an inheritance? Perhaps. I don’t know, and I’m not accusing Burkholder of embezzlement.

But cases like this do raise questions.

Shortly before he died in September 1998, Walter Benz, 72, confessed to stealing an average of $50,000 per year over a 26-year period. Benz admitted the money was used to fund expensive items such as cars, guns, antiques, a Florida condo, and gambling trips to Atlantic City in the company of his secretary, with whom he had lived for a number of years. As newsworthy as that item was, who would expect it to occupy the local media for weeks and, quite literally, scandalize thousands of Pittsburgh-area Catholics? But Benz wasn’t your average Joe Thief. He was better known as the Rev. Walter J. Benz, Pastor of St. Mary Assumption parish in Hampton, Penn., and previously, Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament parish in Harrison.

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