Originally created 11/26/03

Audit leads priest to quit



HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - The Rev. Michael McCafferty will leave St. Francis By-the-Sea Catholic Church on Jan. 1 after a church audit found he misused church money.

No charges will be filed against the Rev. McCafferty, who says he borrowed money from a Hispanic ministry fund over time and sometimes forgot to pay back loans. The Rev. McCafferty apologized to his congregation Sunday.

Bishop Robert J. Baker accepted the Rev. McCafferty's resignation after the Diocese of Charleston performed an audit as the result of a complaint regarding parish finances, said spokeswoman Maria Aselage.

The parish finance committee implemented the recommendations of the audit and engaged other auditors to evaluate financial records, she said.

"Presently, St. Francis' finances are in good order," she said. "The parish finance committee will release a full financial statement to parishioners in the near future."

The diocese did not say how much money was taken, although it might have been thousands of dollars, but said the Rev. McCafferty has made restitution. Robert Westerfelhaus, an assistant professor of communications at the College of Charleston, said it is very unusual for a priest to be accused of misappropriating funds.

"I'm not aware of many examples of it partly because there are so many checks and balances," he said. "It certainly sounds like an abuse of trust because that's not what the money was meant for."

Priests receive a salary but have few personal expenses.

"You don't get rich, but it's enough to live off," he said. "They don't have a high standard of living but they don't have a lot of expenses either."

The Rev. McCafferty will likely be transferred to another parish. He was ordained in 1987.

The Rev. Martin Laughlin will be put in charge of parish finances until the Rev. McCafferty's replacement is named.