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January 13, 2012

Do all agree that "priest deserves to be treated like any other criminal"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local commentary discussing today's upcoming federal sentencing for a priest whose gambling habit turned him into a federal felon.  The commentary by Jane Ann Morrison is headlined "Thieving priest deserves to be treated like any other criminal," and here are excerpts which providing background on the case and the sentencing debate:

The thieving, gambling monsignor who stole $650,000, mostly from his church's votive candle fund, has his supporters who want him to receive probation Friday.  I'm not one of them.

Nor is the U.S. Department of Probation, which recommends he spend 33 months in prison, which is the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines.  The high end would be 41 months. U.S. District Judge James Mahan won't be bound by the probation recommendation when he sentences Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe at 10 a.m. Friday.  He can show leniency. Or not.

McAuliffe's attorney, Margaret Stanish, has an uphill battle when she argues his gambling addiction and his mental disorders and depression are reason to give him clemency.  She's arguing for probation, so he can stay an active priest and help other gambling addicts. Why should an addicted priest get a pass from prison when other gambling addicts don't? That's unfair.

Nevada federal judges haven't been forgiving with others who steal because they want to gamble with money that's not theirs, partly because sentencing guidelines say gambling addiction is no reason for a judge to reduce a sentence.

Elizabeth "Becki" Simmons, a paralegal in the U.S. attorney's office with a fondness for gambling was sentenced to 30 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Johnnie Rawlinson in 1999. Simmons creating a scheme in which she was able to steal more than $1 million from the U.S. Marshals Service witness fund between 1988 and 1998 by creating fake witnesses. She did the time but never paid restitution.  The prosecution noted the divorced mother of two had a pattern of gambling four hours a night, four times a week.

In May, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson sentenced Ely City Councilman Stephen Marich, a cashier at the First National Bank of Ely, to 78 months in prison.  Marich admitted to stealing at least $3.7 million over 12 years. (Auditors estimated it was actually about $5.9 million.) Dawson rejected the "compulsive gambling disorder" defense, noting that Marich was gambling using the bank's money and not his own.

McAuliffe was doing the same.  He wasn't gambling his savings, he was gambling money mostly meant for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Summerlin, where he was the pastor.  Most of the theft was from looting the votive candle fund.  He also created false financial records so that St. Elizabeth was underreporting its financial condition and shortchanging the Las Vegas Diocese about $84,500.  That's why he pleaded guilty to three counts of mail fraud; he mailed fraudulent documents.

Despite his theft, McAuliffe "left the parish and school debt-free and in excellent financial health," his attorney wrote.  A more deceitful image of McAuliffe emerged from Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown's sentencing memo.  She noted the priest lied to the FBI when first asked why his income hasn't matched his expenses since 2002....

Should the monsignor be treated different than the thieving Las Vegas paralegal and the thieving Ely bank cashier?  Absolutely not.

Though the Catholic Church teaches forgiveness, McAuliffe should be treated like any other criminal, because that's what he is.  In court, McAuliffe shouldn't be held to a higher standard because he is a priest.  But the priest doesn't deserve a pass from prison.

Without knowing more of the facts, I am disinclined to assert that either probation or nearly three years in prison is a fitting sentence in this case.  That said, though I agree that a priest does not "deserve a pass from prison" in all settings, I also resist the notion that a priest "should be treated like any other criminal."  

For a wide variety of reasons, I do not think that a priest really is similarly situated to all other federal criminals.  In this setting, I would be especially interested to know about, and be responsive to, the "victims" of his crimes: if this priest's parishioners are among his supporters urging a probation sentence (presumably because they genuinely feel he can do more good for them on probation than in prison), my commitment to victim interests at sentencing pushes me toward thinking this man of the cloth ought to get at sentencing some of the very forgiveness that the church preaches and that his parishioners may be eager to demonstrate.  (But, then again, maybe my sympathetic sentencing judgment in this case is being unduly influenced by my deep (tongue-in-cheek) concerns about the enduring "War on Christmas" and the "War on Religion" that I hear is being waged in the US.)

UPDATE:  This AP story, headlined "Gambling Priest Gets 3 Years Prison in Vegas Case," suggests that the federal district judge sentencing Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe might have considered the occupation of the man he was sentencing an aggravating factor.  Here are the interesting details:

Muffled sobs erupted Friday in a courtroom packed with supporters of a Roman Catholic priest who was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison and ordered to repay $650,000 he acknowledged embezzling from his northwest Las Vegas parish to support his gambling habit.

Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, stood straight and offered no reaction as U.S. District Judge James Mahan credited him for accepting responsibility for looting parish votive candle, prayer and gift shop funds for eight years, but faulted him for "hedging his bet" by blaming it on a gambling addiction....

Defense attorney Margaret Stanish asked the judge for probation so McAuliffe could continue getting counseling for his gambling addiction, keep practicing as a priest and pay restitution to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Summerlin.  He won't get treatment in federal prison, Stanish said. "Is it all about retribution?" she asked the judge.  "This court has the ability to fashion a punishment that takes into account not only the offense but the individual.  He would not be here but for a gambling addiction."...

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown characterized McAuliffe as an opportunist and thief who didn't exhaust his own savings before taking church cash to fund gambling, cars and travel.  She accused him of grasping at gambling addiction as "a hollow excuse offered now, when he's desperate for leniency from the court."...

The judge referred to a parish rift over McAuliffe's crime when he said he received approximately 100 letters of support through the priest's defense attorney.  Mahan also made part of the court record a stack of letters parishioners sent straight to the court saying McAuliffe should be punished.  "I expect the church to forgive him, and the parishioners by and large to forgive him," Mahan said from the bench.  "That's different than the justice system."...

Mahan handed down a 37-month sentence — midway between the 33-month minimum and 41-month maximum recommended by federal probation officials — along with the restitution order. The judge also sentenced McAuliffe to three years of supervised release following prison and banned him from gambling. McAuliffe was ordered to begin serving his sentence April 13.

Outside court, longtime parishioner Regina Hauck, 80, called the judge fair but the sentence unfair.  She said she wanted forgiveness.  "I know him. He's a wonderful priest," Hauck said of McAuliffe.  "But I think he's a sick man, and everyone makes a mistake."

January 13, 2012 at 09:37 AM | Permalink

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Fr. O'Leary rear ends Presbyterian Minister Burns in Boston while traveling at an unsafe speed.

Ofc. DeLuca assesses the scene and asks: "How fast was he going, Father, when he backed into you?

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 13, 2012 10:03:40 AM

I am not really certain why you feel that a priest should be more entitled to "forgiveness" than any other criminal.

First of all, your idea of forgiveness seems misplaced anyway. Forgiveness is an act of the heart. The parishioners (and God) can forgive the priest and still expect him to do the same temporal punishment. In fact, this very notion is a teaching of the RCC.

Second, it is a slippery slope when we start to give people breaks just because of their job. We start to justify giving a cop probation for a crime that would land me in prison for 5 years. Punishment should be based on the facts of the case, not the job someone holds.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 13, 2012 10:10:30 AM

His job should matter in a couple of respects. It might be relevant to specific deterrence. Here, a priest who has been shamed in front of his parish has got to be considered a very low risk to re-offend. Second, a job would matter in the case of say, a sexual assault case, where the defendant was a camp counselor who abused his position of trust and access. (A reason why Catholic priests convicted of sexual abuse should get longer sentences than, say, dishwasher repairmen.)

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jan 13, 2012 10:55:22 AM

The only reason this is in federal court is because he sent fraudulent documents in the mail. The sentence for that should be pretty minimal. The theft is more properly the interest of the state. It should be the state of Nevada that decides his punishment for stealing the money.

Posted by: C.A. | Jan 13, 2012 11:11:06 AM

I'm always amused when I hear that some fellow was "forced" into his bad but (to him) highly enjoyable behavior by an "addiction." The malefactor thus transforms himself into a "victim," albeit a victim of some activity he and a lot of other people enjoy but -- for the other people -- are too honest to steal or cheat in order to indulge themselves.

Bunches of people enjoy gambling. But the huge majority manage to use their own money. Because this clergyman had easy access to other people's money, however, he could get away with what the rest of us, without such access, can't or, out of scruples, decline to. When the jig was up, his lawyer says (likely with the help of the standard paid-off shrink) that it wasn't really that Mr. Clergyman could steal more easily than most, it was an "addiction."

In our present, dumbed-down culture of "everybody's a victim, nobody's just dishonest," this baloney is all over the place. Probably the most prominent example was Tiger Woods, who rampantly cheated on his (incredibly beautiful) wife. This was not because he was a young, good looking, athletic guy with oodles of money and a boatload of arrogance and whatever-I-want attitude to go with it -- noooooooo, not that -- it was because, as his PR department told us, he was a "sex addict"! So, instead of anyone thinking ill of him and his nonstop cheating with every cocktail waitress from here to Dubai, we should all take pity on the guy because, ya see, he was a "victim."

That's exactly what's going on here, and what I saw go on year in and year out when I was a litigator. Nobody engages in these fun activities like sex or gambling or the shop-till-you-drop spree because they were greedy and dishonest or self-involved or indifferent to the people they were hurting. Nope. Not that.

The problem, instead, was that they had a "syndrome" nobody ever heard of before, or they were "slaves of addiction," or some such thing. The poor guy!

This kind of stuff has become the Number One staple of the defense bar at sentencing (inching ahead of the defendant's loving care for his children (for whom he hasn't made a support payment or visited in five years)).

When you see this go on in case after case, year after year, you can't have a lot of sympathy for this defendant, who apparently has some of his flock still as bamboozled as he had them in the years he was allegedly ministering, but actually stealing, from them.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jan 13, 2012 1:17:34 PM

Thinkaboutit:

I understand what you mean as far as access with the camp counsellor.

Nonetheless, you wrote that the priest's job is "relevant to specific deterrence. [because] a priest who has been shamed in front of his parish has got to be considered a very low risk to re-offend."

I have 8 close family members who are active members of parishes in 3 regions of America.
I know of a couple of sexual-abuse situations in their parishes (which is sad by itself).

Those abusers were never "shamed" in front of the parish. They were shifted out and people
were 'not supposed to talk about,' as it were.

Despite tales from my family about the nun with the yardstick who really used it, such discipline is as dead and gone as is any legitimate contempt and punishment for clergy, in the Catholic Church of today.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 13, 2012 1:58:42 PM

i'm going to have to give bill this one. Sorry i though justice was supposed to be blind to our differences and fair in her decisons.

so i stand by my statement "A crime is a CRIME no matter who does it!'

IF crime "X" calles for "y" sentence THEN YOU GET THAT no matter WHO YOU ARE or WHAT YOUR JOB!"

the only thing who or what you do might and i say MIGHT come in during the final penalty phase and even then it should take something OUT of the ordinary to change it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 13, 2012 4:02:37 PM

Adamkis, I ended my post by saying that, like camp counselors, Catholic priests convicted of sexual abuse should get longer sentences than dishwasher repairmen. I agree that priests were not shamed in the abuse scandal but simply allowed to prey on others or, worse yet, get a gig at the Vatican. The whole thing is shameful. The difference with this guy is that he remained with his community and did not get moved and did not flee. I can't know for sure, of course, but he seems like a very low risk to re-offend so I am not sure I need taxpayers paying for a long sentence in such a case.

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | Jan 13, 2012 5:17:53 PM

"Why should an addicted priest get a pass from prison when other gambling addicts don't?"

Is this true, a lie or propaganda?

Perhaps an equally or more valid question is why should a priest be denied benefits others enjoy?

Posted by: Anon | Jan 13, 2012 6:10:56 PM

Muffled sobs erupted Friday in a courtroom packed with supporters of a Roman Catholic priest who was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison and ordered to repay $650,000 he acknowledged embezzling from his northwest Las Vegas parish to support his gambling habit.

Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe, 59, stood straight and offered no reaction as U.S. District Judge James Mahan credited him for accepting responsibility for looting parish votive candle, prayer and gift shop funds for eight years, but faulted him for "hedging his bet" by blaming it on a gambling addiction.

Posted by: DeanO | Jan 13, 2012 7:20:16 PM

That's some votice candle budget.

Posted by: Ungrateful Biped | Jan 13, 2012 8:11:04 PM

er . . . "votive"

Posted by: Ungrateful Biped | Jan 13, 2012 8:11:42 PM

Addiction is a an aggravating factor, implying inability to control the behavior and the greater necessity of a cage. Treatment can be provided inside the prison. If successful, conditional parole may allow outside restitution activities later.

Robert Downey failed many rehabs, until found face down in skid row. The judge had enough, and put him in jail, separating his brain from readily available cocaine for a few months. He emerged to do 2 Iron Man movies, 2 Sherlock Holmes movies, and most impressive of all, was seen back with his wife at award ceremonies. That judge generated $100's of millions of movie business by his wise decision, saved a marriage.

There is no standard decision formula. An utilitarian analysis must carried out on the individual features of each case.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 14, 2012 8:32:03 AM

If the loss or damage from a theft exceeds the consensus value of life (now a too high $6 million), the defendant has killed the life economic output or a constructive economic person. He should therefore face the death penalty, preferably summary, so that lawyers do not steal $millions from the taxpayer in false appeals. The death penalty appellate bar should be put on trial for its bad faith plunder of the taxpayer. The judges enabling this caper should go first into the death room in the basement of the courthouse, get shot in the back of the head. Together they have stolen $billions of dollars from the tax payer, with full self-dealt immunity.

I do not know if I would have the physical courage to personally dispatch a serial killer, child mass murderer, or other extreme, violent, dangerous, repeat offender. I have no doubt I could do it in the case of the lawyer hierarchy. It would be to save my country, as I would have no hesitation to sacrifice my low worth life to protect it.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 14, 2012 8:00:57 PM

Supr Claus:

I esteem you to demonstrate true insight with the Downey example.

Unfortunately, "A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool."

Therefore, "A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back."

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 14, 2012 8:10:24 PM

adamakis: "Despite tales from my family about the nun with the yardstick who really used it, such discipline is as dead and gone"

me: having experienced having a yardstick get broken across my bottom at home and the school paddle, I would say such abuse is still very much with us - at least in the deep South :(

and just to tease Supremacy Claus, not only were those beatings child abuse, they failed misarbly at the goal of making me a good girl ;)

Erika :)

Posted by: virginia | Jan 15, 2012 10:22:58 AM

Virginia: You are very mannerly, however bad you are, surely a result of your Southern child rearing. Child abuse definitions are targeting Southern child raising methods, still favored in black culture in Northern areas. These abuse definitions are racially biased and motivated. Recent trends:

1) Make all citizens mandated reporters. Already true in Delaware, coming to Pennsylvania after the Penn State scandal. All neighbors, family, strangers walking by will be snitching, or facing a $10,000 fine for the first offense, $50,000 and jail time for the second. Welcome to Stalinist Russia, courtesy of the feminist lawyer rent seeker.

2) Emotional abuse: any derogatory statement made to the child. OK. Then ignore the child until it addresses you respectfully. No.

3) Emotional neglect: ignoring the child.

This is an all out attack on the American family, and pretexts to remove black children from their families, to generate massive government make work.

At the street level, ordinary child welfare workers are seething. They are carrying 50 cases of kids with broken bones, being starved. Now they have to investigate cases of ignoring of bad behavior by a parent.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 15, 2012 10:44:40 AM

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