“Parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church in Downingtown were told Sunday that their popular pastor, Monsignor Joseph McLoone, had recently resigned his position after being placed on administrative leave by the Philadelphia Archdiocese following the discovery of alleged financial and personal improprieties.
The announcement, which was delivered to the faithful at the end of every Mass this weekend, was made by Monsignor Thomas J. Dunleavy, who had taken over leadership of the church on an interim basis in February when it was first announced that McLoone was taking a leave of absence.
Dunleavy told the crowded church that McLoone had offered his resignation after coming under investigation by archdiocese officials, and that it had been accepted by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
McLoone’s status now has been changed to being on administrative leave after his resignation
“Let us entrust ourselves to our parish patron, Saint Joseph, the father of Jesus, once again,” Dunleavy urged the congregation at the conclusion of his extraordinary message. “My hope is that you, and all parishioners, will continue to find St. Joseph’s part of a holy family. Please continue to make St. Joseph’s your holy family.”
McLoone’s misconduct, Dunleavy indicated, had been two-fold: the establishment of a private bank account in the name of St. Joseph’s parish that he alone controlled, and into which he funneled more than $110,000 through over the course of six years beginning in 2011; and the use of some of those funds — estimated as at least $1,500 — for “personal expenses of an inappropriate nature” involving his “relationship with adults.”
Dunleavy pointed out the establishment of the account outside the normal parish finances was in itself a violation of archdiocese protocol.
However, did not detail what those personal relationships involved, other than to say that they were outside of the standards and boundaries of the archdiocese and did not involve members of St. Joseph’s. He said that investigators from the archdiocese were continuing to work with McLoone to sort through which expenditures were connected with those relationships and which were not.
According to Ken Gavin, the chief communications officer for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, payments and withdrawals from this bank account are still being scrutinized.
“There are still approximately $50,000 in expenditures and ATM withdrawals that need to be better substantiated or explained,” he said. “Monsignor McLoone is being given the opportunity to provide those substantiations and explanations.
“The Archdiocese is pursuing full financial restitution on behalf of the parish for the expenditures that have been acknowledged as inappropriate,” Gavin said in a statement. “In addition, the parish finance council has advised (Dunleavy) to seek reimbursement for any additional amounts that cannot be appropriately explained or substantiated when this process is complete.”
Establishing an “off the books” account in the parish’s name was in violation of financial standards set up by the archdiocese, according to Dunleavy, the senior pastor at SS. Simon and Jude Church in Westtown who was named the acting parochial administrator at St. Joseph’s in February, after McLoone went out on leave. He said that none of the church’s school funds, capital contributions, or normal Sunday collection revenue were involved. Should the time come, however, to pass information on about the account and the way in which it was handled, appropriate law enforcement authorities would be notified, he told the congregation.
Chester County First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone, contacted Sunday, declined comment.
“We have not been notified of any investigation,” into allegations of impropriety at the church,” he said.
Those parishioners leaving the 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass seemed stunned and somewhat confused by the announcement. As they quickly dispersed from the church into the cold morning mist, most declined comment on the news when approached by a reporter.
“I’m still trying to figure it all out,” said one woman who was walking to her car with her husband. “I couldn’t understand half of it,” said another woman. A third said she was quite shocked and upset. “I had no idea that this was going on.” Dunleavy said his statement would be e-mailed to every member of the congregation today.
The whereabouts of McLoone had been the subject of much speculation since February, with an abrupt announcement that he was taking a leave of absence and would not be celebrating Mass or performing any other duties at St. Joseph. The weekend of Feb. 24, those attending services were told only that McLoone “is currently on an indefinite leave of absence,” and that further information would be made available and shared with the parish “when that becomes known.”
The congregation was instructed to tell anyone who asked about McLoone to say only that, “All we know is that he is away.” Any further questions were to be referred to the archdiocese communications office in Philadelphia.
Because of the concern the vague announcement caused — Was McLoone sick? Had he been removed? Were there allegations of abuse? — the principal of the church’s school, Sister Catherine Irene, and its director of religious education, Kathryn Thomas, sent a letter to school families on Feb. 28. In it, they said that they had asked the archdiocese for clarification.
“As a result, we can inform you that the circumstances surrounding out pastor’s absence are not related to any child safety issues,” the letter said.
A follow-up announcement made in Mass assured parishioners that the issue with McLoone did not involve children, but no other details were announced.
Contacted by a reporter in early March about McLoone’s absence, parishioners were circumspect.
“He is a wonderful person and a wonderful pastor,” said one man. “He has done wonderful things for the parish. I am not speculating (on why he took leave), other than based on what they said it had nothing to do with children. It’s not any of my business.”
Another congregant, a member of the church’s Financial Council, which Dunleavy said had been consulted about the matter, was more blunt, but refused to go into detail.
“I’m a very forgiving man,” he said. “God help him.”
McLoone grew up in the Olney section of Philadelphia, and attended Incarnation School and Cardinal Dougherty High School. He was ordained in 1988 and before coming to Downingtown, served most of his pastoral assignments in Philadelphia: St. Anne, St. Martin of Tours, the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and St. Katharine Drexel in Chester, Delaware County. He came to St. Joseph in 2011 and was named pastor in 2012.
His presence came in the wake of the arrest and later conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who had been pastor at St. Joseph’s, in a child abuse scandal involving the Philadelphia archdiocese. Lynn was accused of knowingly placing a priest who had been accused of sexually abusing children in parishes without disclosing the accusations to parishioners.
Lynn was convicted in 2012 of one of two child endangerment charges, and acquitted of a single count of conspiracy. This was the first time a Catholic church official serving in an administrative position in a diocese was convicted in the United States for covering up child sexual abuse by priests. He was sentenced to three to six years in state prison, but saw his conviction overturned while in prison. He is awaiting retrial in Philadelphia.
McLoone was brought in to Downingtown to help calm the roiled waters left by Lynn’s arrest at St. Joseph’s, which is the largest single Catholic parish in Chester County, with more 4,600 families and nearly 15,000 parishioners, according to its website. In a sermon that drew applause in June 2012, McLoone, said, according to the New York Times, “We want to rid the church of this profound stain, this powerful evil.”
In his announcement Sunday, Dunleavy referenced a flyer that had apparently been inserted surreptitiously into some – but not all – copies of the parish bulletin and available to members of the congregation on Saturday, when the first announcement was given after the 5 p.m. Mass. The flyer apparently went into explicit detail about the allegations against McLoone and raised questions raised why the church and the archdiocese had not been more forthcoming about what it knew about McLoone’s activities and when.
“We are St. Joseph’s parish and we deserve more respect, care and honesty than the archdiocese is giving us,” the anonymous flyer read in part. “We deserve to know what’s going on in OUR parish that we have built and support spiritually and financially. We are in this together. Pray for each other and stand for each other.”
In addressing the flyer while speaking to parishioners at the culmination of the 7:30 Sunday Mass, Dunleavy stressed that they were not authorized by the parish or the archdiocese
“They should not be treated as an official, or an entirely accurate, update,” he said.
Attempts to reach McLoone were unsuccessful.”