It’s true to say that religion and religious matters are one of the topics that divides people more than anything else and can trigger off passionate and heated debate and argument over what is right and wrong. However, in a news story which has broken just this week, it seems that one particular member of the religious community is about to spark off more interest and discussion – not for her fervour and dedication to her calling, but for her deceptive and fraudulent criminal activities.
Embezzling Church Funds
In a story that’s been reported in The Daily News online it appears that a Roman Catholic Nun, Sister Mary Ann Rapp, aged 68, has entered a guilty plea to Grand Larceny at Orlean County, near Rochester. It’s thought that in total she had stolen more than $128,000 from two different churches that she worked in over a period of time spanning around five years from 2006 to 2011.
When she appeared in court, she said she was not sure of the exact amount of money in dollars that she had stolen, as she entered a plea of fourth degree Larceny. Intitally she had decided to forgo her right to a grand jury proceeding. However, she decided after legal advice to opt for a plea bargain, by the District Attorney, Joseph Cardone. This bargain would mean that she would face no more than a total of six months in jail, but that she would have to pay ‘reasonable restitution’, which would be decided on and worked out at some point in the future.
Rapp has been a nun for more than fifty years, serving two churches – St. Marks in Kendall and St Mary’s in Holley and had been a respected member of the religious communities there. It was only when Father Mark Noonan, taking over as Pastor of the two institutions in 2010, ordered an audit of both churches finances, that the missing money was discovered and Rapp’s fraud was initially uncovered.
She was at first, charged with second degree Larceny, a much more serious offence, which can carry a jail penalty of up to fifteen years. However, entering a plea of fourth degree Larceny, whilst still serious, is liable for a lesser sentence in jail – with up to four years time being served. Rapp’s lenient treatment was meted out, because, as Judge James Punch pointed out her previous lack of any criminal history and her trite and honest response to what she had done meant that she posed little risk to anyone other than herself. It’s also highly possible that Sister Rapp may not even have to serve any time in jail at all. This could in theory all change if Judge Punch decides to alter the punishment and sentence her to serve longer in prison as she may then withdraw her plea.
The story behind the case
Many people do tend to have a particular view or image of the kind of person that embezzles money or takes part in fraudulent activities. A nun isn’t the one that would immediately spring to mind. People would perhaps assume that people who steal money are doing so to clear a debt or to get them out of some other financial problem that is causing them stress and upset in their lives. What makes this case more unusual is that Sister Rapp was using the money to feed a gambling addiction which had started to spiral out of control. She’d used the money she had stolen to gamble at Casinos in Niagara Falls, far enough away from her parish not to be readily recognised. It had been revealed that she had sought help for this problem after the initial confrontation over the missing money as far back as 2011. It was at this time she was placed ‘on leave’ from her duties. After seeking treatment it was hoped that she had overcome the issue, but as this story testifies, addiction – whether it be to drugs, alcohol or anything else can be notoriously difficult to overcome, even with the correct support in place.
Commenting on the case, Orleans County District Attorney Joseph Cardone said that this proved “No-one’s above the law”, adding that “You certainly cannot prey on parishioners of a church who are giving money in support of their cause”.
Judge Punch has set sentencing on the case to take place on July 1st 2013, it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds and develops. It just goes to show however, that appearances can be very deceptive indeed.