.- Fr. John Reid, a Roman Catholic priest serving in County Durham, England, has been spared an 18-month jail sentence for stealing more than £50,000 from his parish, which he had been spending on his housekeeper and her two daughters.
According to media reports, the 70-year-old priest was given an 18-month suspended sentence after admitting to fraud by abuse of position at an earlier hearing. He has agreed to repay the money within three months.
“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,” said Jane Waugh, the prosecutor in Fr. Reid's case, according to the Telegraph.
“There had been dramatic increases within the categories of General Administration, House Keeping, and Hospitality. This would appear to be because Gillian, Alice, and Veronica Leddy…were effectively living at the presbytery and the defendant's expenditure increased to reflect the fact that he was helping to support them financially,” Waugh said.
Fr. Reid was assigned to St. Cuthbert's parish in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in 2009. Within a few years of his arrival, some parishioners began to raise eyebrows when the parish's spending had more than doubled.
Suspicions were also raised when Fr. Reid began asking for blank checks without giving any details about his spending. He also started to run the parish without a finance council, and named one of his housekeeper's daughters the co-signatory of the parish check book. He additionally wrote more than 150 checks to himself.
Basic living for a parish priest at St. Cuthbert's should have totaled around £31,500 over the course of four years. Instead, that number spiked to over £113,000.
Eventually, parishioner Nora McKie raised the red flag and wanted Fr. Reid's spending to be investigated by auditors and the police.
“The witness Nora McKie…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,” Waugh said.
During the two-year investigation, it was discovered that Fr. Reid had stolen thousands of pounds from the parish to pay for things such as foreign travel, fine dining, expensive cutlery and a seemingly lavish lifestyle for his housekeeper and her daughters.
In addition, the priest's rectory was found “in terrible condition.”
“It was dirty and untidy with large quantities of alcohol present,” Waugh noted, adding that they also found “female clothing in the bedrooms and it was apparent that females had been staying there.”
Fr. Reid had also funded two homes, a few cars, and even financed a business venture for the two daughters, using his own inheritance.
In response to the investigation, Fr. Reid stated that he was in love with his housekeeper, Gillian Leddy, and that the three women were “the family that he never had.”
“The parish keeps me,” Fr. Reid stated, and “ultimately, I’m in charge of it, so I can spend it.”
Since the scandal, Fr. Reid has been replaced at St. Cuthbert's by another priest and was charged to pay back the £50,000 that he stole, in addition to another £5,000 to repay the auditing costs within three months.