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New York priest accused of improper behaviour steps down as investigation starts

St Frances de Chantal in the Bronx

A New York priest accused of scandalous behaviour of a sexual and financial nature in a lawsuit filed by his parishioners on December 10 has stepped down as pastor of a church in the New York borough of the Bronx.

Saying that he made the decision to step down “while this unfortunate and regrettable situation is investigated,” Fr Peter Miqueli in a letter to members of St Frances de Chantal Parish that he was “not guilty of the charges” brought against him but “felt that my continued presence here would be a distraction to you, particularly during this season of Advent and Christmas.”

The letter went on to say that Fr Miqueli has been co-operating for months “with the investigations that have been underway to get to the bottom of the allegations that have been brought against me, and I intend to continue in any way possible to resolve this matter.”

The letter was read to parishioners attending Masses at St Frances de Chantal the weekend of December 12-13.

The 36-page lawsuit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, includes salacious details of a sexual affair Fr Miqueli allegedly carried on with Keith Crist as well as accusations that the priest took money donated to repair a church pipe organ and used drugs provided by a parishioner. The suit also claims the priest pays part of the monthly rent for Crist’s Manhattan apartment.

The suit was filed by parishioners from St Frances de Chantal and his previous parish, St Frances Cabrini, on Roosevelt Island, where Fr Miqueli, 52, served as pastor from 2003 to 2012. He earlier was administrator there for a year.

According to published reports, the lawsuit also alleges that Fr Miqueli improperly handled parish collections, did not account for the funds and deposited the money into a personal bank account.

In addition to Fr Miqueli, the suit also names New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the New York Archdiocese as defendants.

A day before Fr Miqueli stepped down, Joseph Zwilling, New York archdiocesan director of communications, released a letter he addressed to parishioners of the archdiocese. He released it on Flocknote, a text messaging tool for churches, ministries and various other organisations.

In the letter, Zwilling said, the archdiocese has “from the beginning, taken these allegations seriously, and has been investigating them, including conducting a forensic audit of the parish, which is still ongoing.” He noted that Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik, episcopal vicar of the Bronx, North Manhattan and Central Harlem, “has met with the parishioners, in an effort to try to hear their concerns and reach a resolution, along with a distinguished group of legal professionals.”

Zwilling, in an afternoon interview Dec. 14 with Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper, said that the archdiocese notified the Bronx District Attorney’s Office of the allegations against Fr Miqueli in August.

“To date we have found nothing to substantiate the allegations that have been raised, and, in fact, with regard to the parish finances, we know that the allegation that Fr Miqueli stole $1 million from each parish, as was alleged by the plaintiffs’ attorney, is completely false,” Zwilling wrote.

“We did find that Father Miqueli had deficient management and administrative practices, and have put forward several directives to remedy those deficiencies.

“We have asked the people who are making these charges to please provide us with documentation, but they have thus far failed to do so,” he said.