Dropping a contribution in a collection plate or sending a check to a church isn't normally cause for concern, even among the most careful consumers.
But just because the person in the pulpit wears priestly vestments and urges congregants to give til it hurts doesn't mean that all is as it should be, as Catholic congregations in Louisiana and Virginia have learned recently.
A Louisiana seminarian from Uganda allegedly skipped town with thousands of dollars of church funds after wooing at least one local woman with tales that he was a cardiologist. And a Virginia priest allegedly led a double life for 14 years, supporting a wife and three children in suburban style while purporting to live in priestly celibacy in a humble rectory.
Odd Man Out
In Louisiana, Thibodaux police are investigating the case of a Catholic seminarian who apparently lived a secret double life, fleeced parishioners of at least $12,000, then disappeared to his native Africa.
Until his disappearance in December, Jude Nanyumba, 28, had seemed a model candidate for ordination, according to the Rev. Wilmer Todd, who supervised Nanyumba's final internship at St. Genevieve Parish in Thibodaux, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
"Before September, I would've said he was one of the best I've ever had, and I've had six or seven," Todd said. He said the seminarian visited the sick, ministered to high school students and delivered occasional homilies from the pulpit.
But then one day in September, a young woman from a nearby town dropped by St. Genevieve for Mass and was astonished to see Nanyumba dressed in his priestly vestments, reading the Gospel.
She was surprised, she said, because she had met the same man in a bar. He had told her he was a cardiologist and she had taken him home to meet her parents.
Alarmed, she told Rev. Todd who went through Nanyumba's personel effects and found a letter from a woman in Africa who considered herself to be Nanyumba's wife. Todd had a talk with Nanyumba, who vanished a short time later, just months shy of being ordained.
But before leaving town, Nanyumba raised nearly $6,000 in donations from St. Genevieve parishoners and another $6,000 or so from parishoners at a church in Metairie, where he had served earlier.
Church leaders say they suspect Nanyumba had raised even more money off the books but admit they don't know for sure.
Nor is anyone quite certain where Nanyumba is. He left Thibodaux Dec. 16 and hasn't been heard from since. Seminary officials notified Archbishop James Odongo of the Archdiocese of Tororo in Uganda of Nanyumba's disappearance, said the Rev. William Maestri, the Archdiocese of New Orleans' spokesman.
Nanyumba's student visa was canceled, which, if he has left, bars him from re-entry to the United States and Maestri said his priestly studies have been ended by Archbishop Odongo.
Meanwhile, Rev. Todd said he is hearing reports that Nanyumba is calling his personal network of families in Thibodaux and Metairie seeking more money.
"God will deal with Jude," said Todd in a report to his parishoners.
A Double Life
In central Virginia's rural Louisa County, parishoners were enamored of the Rev. Rodney L. Rodis, a dynamic priest who had breathed new life into two small Catholic parishes over the last 14 years.
The parishes were divided and attendance was at an all-time low when Rodis arrived. But the charismatic native of the Philippines built the church rolls to nearly 360 families and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for capital improvements, parishioners told The Washington Post.
But Rodis, 50, looks less saintly these days. He has been charged with embezzling an estimated $600,000 to $700,000 from the parish.
Even more shocking to many is the revelation that, for the past 14 years, Rodis has been living with a woman identified in court records as his wife and their three children an hour away in Spotsylvania County, where his neighbors believed he was in the import-export business.
Diocese of Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has barred Rodis from representing the diocese or celebrating Mass. Diocese officials have also said Rodis could eventually be defrocked, but it would be up to the Vatican to decide whether to remove him from the priesthood permanently.
Rodis was arraigned in Louisa County circuit Court recently to answer the embezzlement charges. He did not enter a plea and was freed on $10,000 bond.
For years, parishioners looked to Rodis for marriage counseling, baptisms and confession, assuming he lived in the modest St. Jude rectory. In fact, authorities say, Rodis lived with his family in a split-level suburban brick house near Fredericksburg, about an hour away.
The family's home was adorned with mini pagodas, an SUV and other cars filled the driveway. Rodis' wife and his three daughters were active in Girl Scouts and other activities.
Rodis retired last May for what he said were health reasons and suspicions began to mount a short time later.
One parishoner said he had responded to Rodis' plea and donated $1,000 for tsunami relief. When he later asked the church secretary for a receipt, there was no evidence the donation had been deposited in the church account, the Post said.
Virginia State Police launched a full-scale investigation a short time later. Sgt. Kevin Barrick said calls from parishioners and donors continue to come in and the total amount of diverted funds is expected to reach well beyond the more than $600,000 the diocese has estimated was stolen.
Insurance may cover some of the losses but damage to the priesthood's reputation is more difficult to measure.
"He deserves an Academy Award for acting because at the same time he was stealing money from us, he was telling us to 'be good,' and that hurt," parishoner Phil Scoggin said. "The fact that he took money from people who really needed it is unconscionable."