BUCKNER, Va. (The Catholic Virginian) While members of St. Jude parish in Mineral and Immaculate Conception parish in Buckner were at first shocked that their former pastor, Father Rodney Rodis, had been charged with embezzling church funds, many now have become angry over his alleged actions.
“We were extremely shocked when initially it came to light. It was heartbreaking,” said Phil Scoggin, chairman of the parish finance council at Immaculate Conception.
“With all that has been published, it is no longer a feeling of heartbreak, but a feeling of anger and astonishment that we had been duped,” he continued.
“This guy deserves an Academy Award for the act that he put on for so many years.”
Mr. Scoggin, a member of the rural parish in Louisa County with 110 households, said that Father Rodis, when he was pastor, often deposited multiple checks twice a day at Virginia Heartlands Bank in Fredericksburg,Va. He dressed in clerical garb when he went to the bank and then drove a vehicle with tags that said “Fr. Rodney.”
None of the members of either of the two Louisa County parishes suspected anything was amiss. Father Rodis celebrated Mass each Wednesday morning at the Buckner church and then was normally not seen again until Saturday afternoon when he came to the church in Mineral.
“Father Rodney would go to Fredericksburg often, but we thought he was going to see a group of Filipinos,” said Maureen Siewert.
Father Rodis has been living with a woman, Joyce Sillador, and three children in a house in Spotsylvania County she purchased in 1994. He says he is not married, but neighbors say they knew the couple as husband and wife.
Mrs. Siewert and her husband Ray, who chaired the building committee when the new church was built, have been part of St. Jude’s since 1983 when they came down to Louisa County on weekends from Springfield looking for property. They moved there full-time in 1992.
“I never knew anybody who didn’t like him,” Mrs. Siewert said of Father Rodis. “I never heard anybody criticize him.”
The initial feeling of shock at learning of Father Rodney’s embezzlement of church money has turned to the feeling of betrayal.
“I feel betrayed,” Mrs. Siewert said.
Mr. Scoggin speculated that some parishioners might be angry at him for not being aware that Father Rodis deposited money earmarked for the church but instead was being diverted to the unknown bank account in Fredericksburg.
“None of us had any reason to suspect that he did anything like this,” he said.
As he prepared to retire at age 50 citing poor health, Father Rodis publicly told parishioners that he would have no money from the diocese and he asked people to be generous in a fundraiser for him.
John Barrett, director of the diocesan Office of Finance, told The Catholic Virginian that all retired priests receive a retirement pension of $18,000 a year and the diocese spends $7,000 toward the annual health care premium for a retired priest.
“He said that he was going back to the Philippines and he would have no health care and no income and requested that we have a fundraiser farewell for him,” said Ray DeCarli, chairman of the finance council at St. Jude’s. “He said to me ‘they’re doing one for me at Immaculate Conception. Can you do one for me at St. Jude’s?’ and I said yes.
“Between the two churches and a special reception, we raised around $27,000 for him,” Mr. DeCarli said. “This is what former parishioners told us.”
Robert Weiner, a St. Jude parishioner, said he always got a tax statement at the end of the year “which was completely correct.” The statements were given only to parishioners who requested one, he said.
“I’ve kept all my checks and looked at the checks between 1994 and 2002 and learned they were diverted to the third bank account,” Mr. Weiner said, explaining that the third account was with Virginia Heartlands or its predecessor, Caroline Bank.
“He diverted the checks before they got to the counters,” he said.
Mr. DeCarli, who came to Louisa County from Scranton, Pa., told parishioners at Mass on Jan. 21 that new safeguards had been put in place to protect contributions from embezzlement by anyone.
“What do we do to prevent this from happening in the future?” he asked.
Mr. DeCarli explained that money from parish collections will now be placed in tamper-proof bags. The current safe will be replaced by a new one requiring two keys to open it. The number of people counting the Sunday collection will go from two to three and both cash and checks will immediately be deposited in the bank.
“Probably the best control that exists is the annual statement which reflects what you gave,” Mr. DeCarli said, urging parishioners to check their statements to see if they are accurate.
Father Mark R. Lane, diocesan Vicar for Clergy, came to both parishes Sunday, Jan. 14 to celebrate Mass and and read a letter from Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo. Both John Barrett of the diocesan Office of Finance and Crystal Lang, diocesan controller, also were present to answer questions of parishioners.
Three days later Joan Pardue, diocesan director of Information Technology, spent eight hours training volunteers from both St. Jude’s and Immaculate Conception how to use a new computer program to record ministry, sacraments and contributions.
On Sunday, Jan. 21, Pat Novak, diocesan associate director of the Office of Christian Formation, came to speak to children and young people at both parishes about how the parish crisis had impacted them. She was also there to answer questions.
“The response from the diocesan office has been very instrumental in starting the healing process,” Mr. Scoggin told The Catholic Virginian.
Father Rodis sent an email message to at least 100 households on Jan. 18 asking for their prayers. It was forwarded by a recipient to The Catholic Virginian.
The text of the message read: “I am sure that at this time you are aware of what has been going on. This is to express my heartfelt apology for the trouble this might have caused you. Whatever the Church may decide regarding my case, I will fully accept the consequences. Please include me in your prayers. Rodney Rodis”
The priest did not enter a plea to the charge of embezzlement when he appeared in Louisa County Circuit Court Jan. 18. After a brief hearing Judge Timothy Sanner ordered him to return to court Feb. 26 and then indicate if he has hired a lawyer to represent him.
Father Rodis posted $10,000 bond after he surrendered his passport and is unable to leave Virginia.
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Catholic Virginian (www.catholicvirginian.org), official newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond, Va.