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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Priest Accused of Using Donations for S&M Kink

MANHATTAN (CN) - Parishioners at two Roman Catholic Churches in New York claim in court that their pastor routinely dipped into donation baskets to fund an illicit lifestyle of sex, drugs and sadomasochistic rituals.

In a lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court on Dec. 10, the plaintiffs, parishioners at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church, on Roosevelt Island, and at St. Frances De Chantal Church, in the Bronx, say they became deeply concerned about how Father Peter Miqueli was handling donations after maintenance workers allegedly stumbled onto the stacks of cash in a church rectory.

In 2014, a group of parishioners set up a website to detail accusations of malfeasance by the pastor, and to share their concerns about an alleged cover-up.

The plaintiffs claim they shared these concerns with Bishop Gerald Walsh, but the archdiocese did nothing to investigation their allegations.

They now claim Father Miqueli used more than $1 million in donated funds to fulfill his bondage same-sex fantasies, some of which involved being forced to drink his sex master's urine.

The weekly bondage "sessions" between Miqueli and a man named Keith Crist cost roughly $1,000, according to the lawsuit, which names Crist and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who heads the New York Archdiocese, as defendants.

"Miqueli used his position of trust and confidence as a pastor, as a man of God, to misappropriate and divert hundreds of thousands of dollars and donations funds from parishioners," the complaint says, adding that the money was instead used to fund "Father Miqueli's illegal and perverted lifestyle."

To hide the alleged theft-and-sex scheme, the complaint says Miqueli turned off security cameras at the church, fired parish employees, refused audits by the archdiocese, and inflated collections amounts in the weekly church bulletins.

Attorney Michael Dowd, who represents the plaintiffs in the matter, said the alleged scandal is one that is "well known within the Archdiosese [of New York]" and that Miqueli "is being protected by somebody high up in the church."

The lawsuit alleges Dolan knew about the scandal but did nothing about it.

If true, the details of the scandal are sordid. Miqueli allegedly tossed all the donation funds into a canvas tote bag and then kept one-foot-high stacks of the cash at his rectory residence.

He then allegedly used the funds to purchase a house on the New Jersey Shore, take dozens of vacations to Florida and Italy, pay $60,000 to a Bronx doctor for illegal prescription drugs and Ecstasy, and pay Crist for weekly sex services, in which Miqueli acted out the role of the "slave," Crist as the "master."

Miqueli also hired Crist as the office manager for a church-run thrift shop, and paid about $1,000 a month for Crist's Park Avenue apartment in East Harlem.

Miqueli also allegedly siphoned off parishioners' donations to buy himself a $264,000 house in Brick, N.J.

The plaintiffs say their suspicions about Miqueli were piqued again last September after the publication of an article in The Main Street, Roosevelt Island, N.Y.'s community newspaper, that detailed how the pastor moved donations earmarked for a new church pipe organ to his personal bank account.

After that article, the complaint says, Crist and Miqueli allegedly tried to cover up their improprieties by destroying financial records at the thrift shop. Miqueli then allegedly used his influence to have an apartment the church was renting put in his name, forcing the other priests in the parish to seek other accommodations.

Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, told Courthouse News that an investigation into Miqueli's alleged activities has been ongoing since before 2012.

"We have asked the people making the allegations to document it, substantiate the allegations, so that if they're true we can take the appropriate action" Zwilling said. "That has not occurred."

Zwilling said the archdiocese has gone to the district attorney in the Bronx to notify him of the church's internal investigation of Miqueli, which began when "some questions were raised" while he was heading up St. Frances Xavier Cabrini Church on Roosevelt Island.

The archdiocese spokesman couldn't pinpoint the exact date the church first was notified about the allegations against Miqueli, but confirmed it was prior to 2012 when Miqueli was transferred to the Bronx.

Zwilling had no comment on the lawsuit itself and said "our lawyers will have to respond in court."

Dowd scoffed at the idea of an internal investigation by the church. "How much do you need, Archdiocese, before you at least do something? Show us the results of this investigation," he said in an interview, adding that the fact that the church's internal review of the matter since before 2012 is especially troubling. "[The investigation] is going to be ongoing until you and I are dead."

Miqueli was appointed to serve as the pastor at St. Frances Xavier Cabrini by Cardinal Edward Egan in 2003.

Nine years later, Miqueli was transferred by Dolan to the Bronx to run St. Frances De Chantal. Miqueli is still listed on the church's website as its pastor. As pastor, Miqueli's salary was supposed to be $31,000 a year. The plaintiffs alleges that by 2008 Miqueli had deposited $900,000 of the donation funds into several brokerage accounts.

According to the New York Archdiocese's financial policies and procedures, gifts and donations must be documented and recorded in a parish's books and are never to be commingled with a priest's personal funds.

Dolan has come under fire in recent years for his role in the Catholic child rape scandal. In 2013, it was revealed that Dolan had sought to transfer millions of dollars of Catholic Church funds to avoid legal liability from rape victims. Egan, who died in May, also was the subject of controversy for his claiming no sexual abuse happened in the diocese in Bridgeport, Conn., which he ran.

The plaintiffs seek compensatory, punitive and consequential damages on multiple claims of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment.

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