Parishioners defend accused Waterbury priest

| June 21, 2010

WATERBURY — Members of the Latino community at Sacred Heart Parish rallied in support of their former priest Sunday, a day after allegations surfaced that he embezzled $1 million from church coffers and lied about having a life-threatening form of cancer.

Officials with the Archdiocese of Hartford say the Rev. Kevin J. Gray, 64, has admitted to diverting money from a savings account that would have paid for building renovations and church debts. Gray has been on medical leave since April 15, and Archbishop Henry J. Mansell revoked his priesthood last week. Rev. Carlos Zapata has been appointed the new pastor.

More than a dozen sign-waving church members clustered on the church steps as Mass let out Sunday afternoon to gather signatures in support of Gray. They said they will hire a lawyer for him and pay his bail if he gets arrested.

"He is not what the superiors are saying about him," said Juan Marrero, a member of the church for four years. "This good friend of mine did not have a car, did not have good clothes to be parading around in. He was a very humble person."

Neither the archdiocese nor police would comment on how the church's money was spent until an arrest warrant is prepared.

"Maybe he gave the money to the people?" said Lucy Byrns, a member of the parish. "The church is for that."

Those who gathered Sunday said Gray is a pillar of the Latino community in the area, helping immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America with citizenship issues, and to find jobs, food and housing. When the Catholic Charities Family Center needed more space, they said, Gray offered his own space at the parish rectory, and moved to a smaller home.

Supporters had gathered several pages of signatures within a few minutes of Mass letting out at 1 p.m.

"He did everything for us. He was incredible," parishioner Melissa Castillo said. "A million is nothing for what he gave to the community. He helped everyone."

Several people in the group said they expect Gray will be able to explain what happened to the missing money. However, they acknowledged they hadn't seen or heard from him since he went on medical leave in April.

Waterbury police Lt. Christopher Corbett said police have made contact with Gray, but he would not say where he was staying. He declined to go into detail, citing the ongoing investigation.

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Category: Church Security

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