Sunday, July 09, 2006

Father Michael Jude Fay is Gay

"Jude was always chasing after him."

Today's New York Times has an article about a Catholic priest who was fired from his Connecticut parish for stealing money. Father Michael Jude Fay had highlights in his hair, directed musical productions, and owned property with a male friend.

In other words, he was gay. The New York Times seems to be coy about saying so, however. I copied the article below. (You will have to pay for it if you look it up on the Times site.) Decide for yourself about Fay, and why the Times won't state the obvious.

July 9, 2006
Before the Downfall of a Priest, a Fondness for the Good Life
DARIEN, Conn., July 8 — The Rev. Michael Jude Fay had his hair highlighted each spring at a local salon at prices of $85 or more, his hairdresser said. His vacation getaway was an ocean-view condominium in Florida that he owned with a close friend from Philadelphia. And he repeatedly spent thousands of dollars on luggage, jewelry and designer clothes, even though his salary was a modest $28,000 a year.

To many of his parishioners at St. John
Roman Catholic Church in Darien, Father Fay's lavish ways came as a shock nearly two months ago when the Diocese of Bridgeport demanded his resignation because of questions about his suitability for the priesthood, his lifestyle and his financial stewardship of the church.

To those parishioners, he was the dutiful son of a New Jersey police officer and an advocate for the poor in wealthy Fairfield County. At times aloof, he was also sensitive in dealing with grief-stricken parishioners and showed flair in producing Broadway-style plays with local talent.
"People loved him," said Richard Manegio, a Darien businessman whose ex-wife relied on Father Fay when she was battling cancer.

But a handful of parishioners, current and former employees and local merchants had nursed suspicions for years about the longtime pastor. In interviews, they — and investigators, lawyers and church officials who came into the case more recently — said Father Fay's taste for the gilded life seemed to have spun out of control in recent years.

"He was the most high-class priest I've ever seen," said Frank Colandro, the owner of a deli across the street from the church, mentioning Father Fay's expensive-looking shoes and watches. And the more Father Fay spent, his critics say, the more autocratic and secretive he became about the church's finances.
Parishioners say there were warning signs about his spending, such as a black-tie bash he threw for himself at the Pierre Hotel, one of the premier hotels in Manhattan, in May 2003 to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the priesthood. But the Bridgeport Diocese did not pressure him to step aside until this year, after private investigators hired by the parish's bookkeeper and associate pastor documented at least $200,000 in questionable spending by Father Fay.

F.B.I. agents are investigating his case, and parish officials have been passing the plate at services with extra pleas for offerings to ease the parish's debt load. The diocese, which violated its own policy by not auditing the parish's finances for more than five years, has said it will not comment on Father Fay until its own investigation is done.

Father Fay has not commented publicly, nor have the two lawyers who have told investigators they represent him. Attempts to obtain a comment from Father Fay were unsuccessful. His 85-year-old mother, Mildred Fay, said in a brief interview, "He's a wonderful person, and he's been wrongly accused."

Even people who thought they knew him well now say Father Fay, 55, has become a riddle to them. "This is a shock," said Ken Bruno, a building inspector in Palisades Park, N.J., whose children were confirmed by Father Fay about eight years ago. "I'm still trying to make sense of it."

Father Fay's story begins in Palisades Park, a tight-knit, working-class town that barely covers one square mile. His father, Martin Terrance Fay, was a co-captain of the football team at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, N.J., just as a new assistant coach, Vince Lombardi, was taking the team to new heights.
Martin Fay served in the Marine Corps during World War II and played minor-league football briefly until an injury sidelined him. Joining the Palisades Park police force in 1946, he ultimately became its chief. And when he died 10 years ago, the borough mourned, according to Frank A. Patti, a mortician who doubled until recently as the town historian. Father Fay "comes from good stock," Mr. Patti said.
Michael James Fay, the third of the Fays' five children, attended the local parish school, was active in Catholic youth organizations and appeared in a school play.

None of Father Fay's siblings responded to requests for interviews. After a stint at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., he earned a degree from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore in 1977, adopted the middle name Jude and earned a Master of Arts degree in 1986 from
Manhattan College, according to school records.
After being ordained in 1978, he worked as parochial vicar at some of
Connecticut's most prosperous parishes, including St. Paul in Greenwich and St. Aloysius in New Canaan.

In 1991, he was put in charge of another wealthy parish, St. John, Darien's oldest Roman Catholic church. Parishioners say he urged them to show compassion to the needy, and they obliged by putting $10,000 or more a week into the church's collection baskets.

Parishioners also appreciated the spirited theatrical productions he helped direct at the church, including "Nunsense," "Guys and Dolls" and "Fiddler on the Roof." Starting in 2000, Father Fay's star seemed to rise. Sacred Heart University honored him for community service in 2002, and the Bridgeport Diocese appointed him to a sexual misconduct review board that year.

For all his outward success, it was evident that Father Fay had an appetite for little luxuries, such as the blond highlights his Darien hairdresser said he put in his hair. A small bridal shower he threw for a Sunday school teacher had a three-piece combo and jaw-dropping flower arrangements, a person who attended said.
Parishioners said he spent thousands of dollars sprucing up the church and expanding the house where the priests lived. When one parent questioned the cost of a tapestry, Father Fay cut her off by saying, "What makes you think it wasn't a gift?" said Regina Damanti, a parishioner who heard the exchange.

Investigators say that friends and family of Father Fay seemed to receive special privileges or favors from the parish. For instance, the church paid last fall to fly another priest from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where Father Fay owns a condominium, parish records show.

Father Fay also asked the church's caretaker to paint his mother's home in New Jersey and to repair the bungalow he once owned in western Connecticut, on church time, the investigators said.
Ellen Patafio, who was the parish's secretary from November 2004 until she quit in February, said Father Fay "really changed a lot over the time I worked there."

Parishioners would call the office, wanting to discuss their problems with the priest, she said, and "every time Jude would get on the phone, he'd roll his eyes." Over time, she and others said, they noticed that he left more of the pastoral work to his parochial vicar, the Rev. Michael J. Madden.

Father Fay learned he had prostate cancer, but Ms. Patafio and other parishioners said he cited problems from the cancer to avoid duties he disliked. He called it playing his "cancer card," they said.
Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport told a recent gathering of parishioners that he may have given Father Fay latitude because he assumed the priest was in dire health. The severity of Father Fay's cancer problems is not known.

Father Fay did not relinquish his tight control over the church's finances, however, according to accounts provided by Ms. Patafio; the church's bookkeeper, Bethany D'Erario; her lawyer, Mickey Sherman; and the investigators she and Father Madden hired in May to look into possible improprieties at the church.
Father Fay typically kept donations to the church in his desk drawer instead of promptly depositing them in the church's bank account, making it difficult to track how the funds were used, said Vito Colucci Jr., one of the investigators hired by Father Madden.

In recent years, Father Fay also picked the members of the church's lay boards rather than let parishioners cast ballots, as they once did. None of the members of the parish's finance council returned calls seeking comment.

At least one member of the finance council, William Besgen, attended the black-tie event that Father Fay had at the Pierre Hotel in 2003, according to a seating list and Mr. Besgen's lawyer. In the spring of 2005, Father Fay and his friend from Philadelphia, Cliff Fantini, a wedding consultant, jointly bought a $449,100 condo in Fort Lauderdale, property records show. Furnishings and monthly cable bills were charged to the parish, church records show.

The two men are also listed as tenants of a luxury apartment on East 63rd Street in Manhattan, the building's staff said. Mr. Fantini, known professionally as Cliff Martell, also stayed at the rectory for extended periods, Ms. Patafio said. Ms. Patafio said Father Fay showered gifts, meals and trips on Mr. Fantini. "Jude was always chasing after him," she said. Mr. Fantini did not respond to multiple messages left at his home.

In April, the bookkeeper and Father Madden took their concerns to the diocese. Father Fay appeared before the bishop on May 9 to respond to the allegations but left without being relieved of his duties. Frustrated, the bookkeeper and Father Madden asked Mr. Colucci and Wendy Kleinknecht, another investigator, to review records the bookkeeper had copied. On May 17, the investigators took their findings to the Darien police. The bishop asked Father Fay to resign and to leave the premises that same day.

Parishioners say they have not seen him since, although his sister Kathleen showed up recently to retrieve his personal belongings, including a cabinet full of Waterford crystal he left behind.

Alain Delaquérière and Nate Schweber contributed reporting for this article.