The attorney for a Virginia Catholic priest suspected of stealing from two churches wants the theft charges dropped because he claims the matter is an internal church affair outside the legal system’s jurisdiction.
The Rev. Rodney L. Rodis faces 13 charges of stealing as much as $1 million while he was a pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bumpass and St. Jude Catholic Church in Mineral.
Rodis’ lawyer, John R. Maus, filed a motion in Louisa Circuit Court last week to dismiss the charges, arguing that the U.S. Constitution bans the government from interfering in church matters.
According to the motion filed, church law grants a pastor a certain authority to handle money for the two churches.
“Whether his use of such funds exceeded his authority as administrator of these parishes will necessarily involve this court in the interpretation and application of (church) law,” the motion states.
R. Don Short, Louisa County’s commonwealth’s attorney, disagrees. “I don’t think the fact that you’re a priest immunizes you from criminal prosecution,” he said.
Rodis is accused of stealing donations from 1995 until his retirement last year.
Parishioners have said that Rodis handled much of the donation money personally. Investigators claim he deposited some donation funds into a Fredericksburg bank account set up in the churches’ name without the congregations’ knowledge and used the money for other purposes.
William Etherington, a lawyer who represents the Richmond Diocese, thinks Maus’ argument is off base.
“I don’t think the First Amendment says that,” Etherington said.
He likened the argument to someone trying to claim that child-molestation cases should be handled as an internal church matter. “That’s crazy,” he said.
At least the church is smart enough to tell the lawyer to buzz off. The reverend (shouldn’t it be Father?) must really be guilty if this is the best a lawyer can come up with. What next, “the devil made me do it!”?