Church Audit Shows $1 Million Missing From Coffers

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio (AP) - One of the largest parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland is troubled over a financial audit that showed at least $1 million missing from coffers under the watch of a now-deceased priest.

Questions about the finances of St. Gregory the Great in this Cleveland suburb arose a few weeks after the death of Monsignor William N. Novicky in October.

A mandatory audit that takes place when a parish changes pastors found St. Gregory was $250,000 in arrears with its assessment payments to the diocese and about $750,000 behind in benefits to the staff, said diocese spokesman Robert Tayek.

"A million dollars is what we are looking at right now as far as things that we know of for sure," said Tayek. "We asked the FBI to come in and take a look at certain matters."

The Rev. Mark J. Payton is reluctant to talk about his predecessor, a man whose final wish was to be buried in "a gray, cardboard-like coffin" used in the burial of indigents.

"None of us is perfect as human beings ... ," he said.

Payton is hoping results from an internal financial audit to be released early next month will end speculation about the unaccounted-for money and lay the past to rest.

"I tell people here we will be producing a financial report, and hopefully it will answer some questions ... that are probably unanswerable because the monsignor is dead," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)