Former priest stole $127,000

DAVID CLARKSON
Last updated 11:35 11/12/2012
priest
David Clarkson
GUILTY PLEAS: Father John William Fitzmaurice leaves court today.

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A former Catholic parish priest has admitted defrauding the church of $127,650.

Father John William Fitzmaurice pleaded guilty to six charges when he appeared in the Christchurch District Court today.

He admitted five charges of dishonestly using documents and one of obtaining money by deception.

Fitzmaurice committed the offences while he was the parish priest at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and at Addington's Sacred Heart Parish.

The charges relating to him using 242 cheques drawn on the Catholic Cathedral Parish and Addington Parish accounts, which were either cashed or paid into his account.

He also admitted dishonestly making 358 automatic teller withdrawals totalling $54,430.

Judge Jane Farish remanded Fitzmaurice on bail for sentencing on February 27.

She called for a pre-sentence report and a report on his suitability for home detention, and his ability to pay reparations to the church.

Reparations on the charges he has admitted total $127,650.

Fitzmaurice was suspended by Bishop Barry Jones in September 2011 and the bishop issued a pastoral letter to be read at all masses.

The bishop told parishioners: "It is now with great sadness that I inform you that I have placed the matter with the police. I took this step because of financial irregularities in areas for which [Fitzmaurice] has been responsible.''

The police would follow their own procedures and make their own investigations, the letter said.

Jones said Fitzmaurice had contributed strongly to the life of the diocese through the exercise of a variety of important appointments and offices.

He urged parishioners to "pray for those most affected and hurt and disappointed by these events".

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton said that since his suspension Fitzmaurice had continued to work with the church and had been living and working in Auckland.

He sometimes returned to Christchurch, and his most recent visit had involved him doing voluntary work with the Christchurch City Mission.

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- The Press

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