Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Priest took charity money

Rev. Axe leaves Good Shepherd

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONTGOMERY - The pastor of Good Shepherd Church retired this week after an audit found that he spent money from a charitable fund on himself.

The Rev. Tom Axe acknowledged in a statement to parishioners that an unspecified amount of money from the fund he oversaw was used "for the personal benefit of the pastor."

Officials at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati accepted Axe's resignation but would not say how much money may have been taken from the fund, which consisted of donations totaling more than $100,000.

Axe told parishioners during Masses on Saturday and Sunday that he was retiring because of health reasons. The archdiocese confirmed the retirement.

Good Shepherd is the largest parish in the archdiocese, with more than 12,000 members, and also is one of the wealthiest.

The charitable fund is intended to help people both inside and outside the parish who need clothing, food or temporary housing.

"It's a painful situation," said Scott Mussari, the church's director of education ministries and a staff member there for seven years. "Father Tom was and still is a wonderful pastor. Folks are taking it hard."

Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said members of the parish finance committee requested an outside audit of church books after they became suspicious that some money was being spent inappropriately.

He said the audit found that church finances were in order, with the exception of a discretionary account controlled by Axe.

"The pastor acknowledged there were some personal expenses there," Andriacco said.

Axe could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But in a statement to parishioners this weekend, he said he would reimburse the money to the parish.

Axe has not been charged with a crime or disciplined by church officials. Andriacco said law enforcement authorities have not been notified. He said auditors and church lawyers do not believe a crime occurred because the fund was for use at the pastor's discretion.

"We're saying his discretion was not good," Andriacco said.


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