Black Collar Crime: Catholic Priest Dennis Zacheis Accused of Sexual Abuse

Dennis Zacheis, a priest with the Archdiocese of St. Louis, has been accused of sexually abusing a minor.

The St. Louis Review reports:

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has received an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against Father Dennis B. Zacheis. The acts are alleged to have occurred while he was an associate pastor at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish in Mehlville from 1975 to 1979. Father Zacheis denies the allegation.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, in consultation with the Review Board of the archdiocese, made the allegation known for the sake of openness and transparency.

Father Zacheis retired from ministry without priestly faculties in 2010 due to alleged irregularities in finances for which he was responsible as pastor of St. Anthony in Sullivan. He currently resides in a private residence.

Father Zacheis served as associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in south St. Louis from 1979-85, Christ, Prince of Peace in Manchester from 1985-88 and St. Matthias in Lemay from 1988-92. He was pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Krakow from 1994-2003, St. Alban Roe in Wildwood from 2003-04 and St. Anthony in Sullivan from 2005-09.

As pastor of the parish in Sullivan, Father Zacheis also was known for a large number of new Catholics joining the faith in a town that is largely non-Catholic.

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In 2010, Tim Townsend, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote:

A lawyer for a Catholic priest said Friday that his client bears no responsibility for a $60,000 shortfall at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church that has divided the Sullivan parish and triggered a reimbursement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

John Kilo, a lawyer who represents the Rev. Dennis Zacheis, said the priest “denies any wrongdoing whatsoever.”

A prosecutor, meanwhile, said his decision not to bring criminal charges against the priest follows seven months of investigation in which the archdiocese cooperated fully.

“If I’d had enough evidence to file criminal charges, (the archdiocese) would have been 100 percent on board,” Franklin County prosecutor Robert Parks said. “As far as I am concerned, the investigation is closed.”

That’s not good enough for some parishioners who feel the $60,000 is only a portion of what the church of 300 families lost during Zacheis’ tenure between 2005 and April 2009, when the archdiocese removed him “for reasons of health.”

Those same parishioners question why their former priest had the church pay for a variety of expenses incurred at Lake of the Ozarks, where he owned a waterfront home.

Financial irregularities at the parish led St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson to take the extraordinary step of visiting the parish personally Wednesday to announce that $60,000 would be restored to St. Anthony’s through the archdiocese’s insurance fund and to pray for healing.

Parishioner Tammy Emily said at the meeting, “There were several people up there saying that this money was unaccounted for. No one would say it had been taken.”

Carlson did say that a routine audit of parish finances in 2009 turned up an off-the-books bank account that included $300,000 in disbursements. Nearly $240,000 of the money “came back to help the parish in a variety of ways,” Carlson told parishioners.

Nonparishioners were asked to leave the meeting before parishioners began asking questions, but those who were there said someone asked how the rest of the $240,000 from the off-the-books account came back to benefit the parish.

According to those parishioners, Carlson detailed some of the expenditures, saying $100,000 was used to renovate the parish rectory (a priest’s residence) and another $90,000 was used for updates to the church. The archdiocese’s internal auditor, Mike Duffy, later told the Post-Dispatch that about $100,000 was for rectory improvements, and $70,000 was for heating and cooling for the church.

Walter Korte, a former St. Anthony’s parishioner and friend of Zacheis’, said he was “totally disappointed” in the meeting because of the “personal attacks” on the priest by angry parishioners.

“I went there for a healing service, and I felt like I’d walked into a crucifixion,” Korte said. “Some of us are grateful he’s in our lives. I had no idea what that meeting would turn into.”

Kilo said Zacheis “has many supporters and he’s done a lot of good for the parish. He engaged in capital improvements and helped the parish out financially.”

The archdiocese said Zacheis’ primary residence since leaving St. Anthony’s is Regina Cleri, a home for retired priests on its Shrewsbury campus. Recently, he has been living at Rochester Treatment Center for Clergy and Male Religious in Minnesota. A woman who answered the telephone at the treatment facility Thursday said Zacheis had checked out that morning, and did not know whether he would be returning.

Former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke assigned Zacheis, 63, to St. Anthony’s in 2005 after a stormy 17-month assignment at St. Alban Roe in Wildwood that ended in the priest’s resignation.

The first two years of Zacheis’ tenure at St. Anthony’s were excluded from any criminal investigation because a three-year statute of limitations on theft meant police could investigate only back to early 2007, Parks said.

 

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Members of the parish also raised questions about church petty cash and a credit card used to pay expenses at Lake of the Ozarks.

“Parishioners have no proof of where their money is going, but I can pretty much guarantee no one donated money for (Zacheis) to go have a good time at the lake,” Emily said.

The archdiocese’s audit details disbursements from a petty-cash checking account and a building-fund checking account, some of which went to payments for Zacheis’ waterfront home at the Lake of the Ozarks, including personal property taxes on his 26-foot PlayCraft tritoon boat.

Other items from the audit include church credit card payments to a variety of retailers and services in Lake Ozark and Osage Beach, Mo., including at the Horny Toad Bar & Grill at the Camden on the Lake resort, just across Workmen Hollow Cove from the priest’s Horseshoe Bend lake house.

The audit lists credit card expenditures from Lake of the Ozarks retailers such as Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Hy-Vee Foods and Sam’s Club; restaurants from McDonald’s to high-end lake spots like the Blue Heron and Bentley’s; and numerous clothing stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and American Eagle Outfitter.

It also lists hundreds of dollars in credit card and bank late fees, overdraft fees and finance charges.

Carlson told St. Anthony’s parishioners Wednesday that the archdiocese had notified civil authorities of financial discrepancies in two other cases recently, neither of which involved Zacheis.

The first involved about $40,000 missing at the Cathedral Basilica. The second involved “improper documentation” of expenditures by an outside vendor working on three construction projects for three different parishes and $95,000 missing, according to Duffy.

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