Parishioners of the Bronx-based St. Frances de Chantal filed a lawsuit this month against Rev. Peter Miqueli, claiming the priest used over $1 million of the church’s money to pay for sexual trysts with so-called “master” Keith Crist. Originally reported by the New York Post, the news has become instant tabloid fodder and forced Miqueli to resign from his post while he’s investigated by both the New York Archdiocese and local prosecutors.
Miqueli allegedly spent $1,000 per encounter with Crist and another $1,075 per month on an East Harlem apartment for Crist. Court papers also suggest Miqueli used a significant amount of money on “illicit and prescription drugs” and a $264,000 home in Brick, NJ.
For his part, Miqueli maintained his innocence in his resignation letter, and there remains some question as to whether proof of embezzlement actually exists.
“The Archdiocese has been investigating these allegations for many months, and has repeatedly requested any information or documentation that might substantiate the allegations that have been made,” Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese of New York, told Catholic News Agency. “Thus far, no evidence has been offered, and our forensic audit has thus far failed to uncover evidence of embezzlement. We have been in touch with the District Attorney since the summer, and have promised to turn over anything that might be criminal in nature. We urge anyone with such evidence to do the same.”
Per National Catholic Reporter, Zwilling added, “We have asked the people who are making these charges to please provide us with documentation but they have thus far failed to do so.”
Though it’s not yet certain that Miqueli stole money from the church, his relations with Crist appear to be more conclusive. The priest allegedly urged Crist to kick ex-girlfriend Tatyana Gudin from the apartment they shared at Miqueli’s expense.
“When [Miqueli] found out—it was late March—he got really mad and really jealous,” Gudin told the Post. “He conspired with my boyfriend to illegally lock me out.”
The priest’s brother also lent the story some credence.
“What can I say? I’m embarrassed,” Joseph Miqueli told the Post.
And while Joseph was unable to confirm allegations of embezzlement, he admitted that members of his family had indeed met Crist.
“It was kind of obvious,” he added. “I know that’s terrible. He’s got to ask for forgiveness. He’s in a mess. He’s in a pretty big mess. This thing is huge.”
Indeed, the story has captured the attention of scandal-weary Catholics everywhere, including those in positions of authority.
“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan. “It’s dark, it’s somber, it’s dreary. I’m sad for the good people at that parish. I’m sad for my priests who once again are tarnished.’’
A number of lurid details have emerged from court papers and the Post’s reporting thereof. But actual charges await further investigating by Bronx prosecutors. In the meantime, Miqueli has become the target of widespread condemnation.
“We’ve done a lot of homework,” said Plaintiffs’ lawyer Michael G. Dowd. “This is a bad guy.”
According to the suit, the church’s maintenance workers witnessed, “several unstacked piles of cash, each approximately one foot high, scattered throughout Father Miqueli’s rectory residence.”
The suit also claims that Miqueli used money that had been designated for a new pipe organ at his previous post with St. Frances Xavier Cabrini on Roosevelt Island. Miqueli’s misuse of funds could date all the way back to 2003.
As Dowd added, “The thing that’s really amazing to me is: How could this guy be acting this way for nine years or so and the archdiocese does nothing?”
Miqueli didn’t show up for services last Sunday, instead allowing another priest to deliver his resignation letter to the congregation. Those in attendance applauded the announcement according to the Post. The church almost certainly has some healing to do.
As court papers suggested, “This lawsuit seeks to finally put an end to this truly sinful conduct so that St. Frances de Chantal parish can regain the strength, spirituality and faith it once had before Father Miqueli arrived.”