Church, priest in an uproar over $200,000

| May 18, 2010

BILOXI — After a Sunday of rowdy disturbance over parish funds that drew police to the 9 a.m. service and canceled the next one at 11, Vietnamese Martyrs Church on Oak Street in Biloxi appeared quiet Monday.

It was the regular day off for the Rev. Jimmy Pham, parish priest since Aug. 1. He did not return telephone calls from the Sun Herald.

At issue is the handling of more than $200,000 in church money that Pham, in accordance with diocese policy, had recently removed from secret accounts and deposited with a local bank in the name of the Vietnamese Martyrs.

Until then, the parish’s funds had long been handled by the same elected members of the pastoral council and were invested as CDs in the name of individuals on the council, said Shirley Henderson, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi.

“That group put money into several accounts that the pastor had no knowledge of,” Henderson said. “One person was signing all the checks in one of the accounts and (statements) were going to that person’s home.”

She said those parishioners “were controlling and hiding parish funds. And although we do believe that these funds were being set aside for a parish hall, the fact is, the pastor had no knowledge of the accounts or funds, thus making it nearly impossible to run day-to-day operations or to make long-term plans for the parish.”

Attempts by the Sun Herald to contact individual parishioners on Monday were unsuccessful.

“The priest, Father Pham, is accountable to church cannon law and civil law, not any of these church council people,” said Henderson. “The buck stops with him; he’d be on the carpet.”

She said Pham met about it with Bishop Roger Morin and the diocese had been trying to clarify the situation for several months.

“There had been some problems with the previous pastor,” Henderson said. “The Bishop was very taken aback that there were still things going on. He decided to dissolve the council.”

On Sunday, there was a letter in the bulletin telling the parish about it, Henderson said, and “the bishop had sent an individual letter to each council member thanking them for their service, but relieving them.”

That letter should have been received on Friday.

“I don’t know why it’s gotten to this point,” Henderson said of the Sunday disturbance. “There’s a history of parishioners at the Vietnamese Martyrs. This has been the way they operated. I don’t know why.

“They have had Vietnamese priests. I would think that would have given them confidence.”


Tags: , ,

Category: Church Security