A priest’s nightmare

This is horrific.  From the St. Catherine Standard.

Extorting $90,000 from priest earns jail time for Niagara man
By Peter Downs, Standard Staff
Updated 3 days ago

A Niagara Falls man who preyed on a Catholic priest’s fear of being falsely accused as a sexual predator will spend another eight months behind bars.

Robert Sammut, 46, was sentenced to 18 months in jail Monday in St. Catharines court. He has been in custody since his arrest last November.

An admitted long-time drug addict with more than 30 previous convictions on his record, Sammut pleaded guilty June 27 to extorting approximately $90,000 from a Niagara Falls priest.

Court previously heard Sammut didn’t know the priest, who cannot be named under a court-ordered publication ban, when he first approached him for money in the fall of 2009.

The priest gave him $30 after Sammut said he needed cash to help support his kids and also owed money to people who would hurt him if he didn’t pay up.

Court was told Sammut began approaching the priest regularly for handouts and eventually threatened him. By January 2010, he told the priest that if he didn’t give him cash, he would tell the police and the media he had been sexually abused by the priest.

Fearing his reputation would be ruined by the groundless allegation, the priest handed over dozens of payments of $150 to $200 over several months, court heard.

“In order to compel the priest’s generosity, he threatened the priest to come forward with false charges,” Judge Joseph Nadel said.

“Given the glut of fallen priests who have fallen prey to these venal acts, this priest feared he would be painted with their brush.”

The priest only went to police to tell them of the extortion after he had wiped out his personal savings, maxed out his credit cards and borrowed money from friends and the church to give to Sammut.

[…]

What. A. Nightmare.

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35 Responses to A priest’s nightmare

  1. RichR says:

    The dark side of this new McCarthyism.

    I am reminded of the comment of CBS analyst Edward Murrow with regards to McCarthy’s reckless accusations:

    “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”

    God help us if we start persecuting the shepherds who are trying to be loyal. We will be doing the devil’s work for him.

  2. MattnSue says:

    Based on how many priests have been treated both by both the secular and diocesan powers that be, I am not surprised that the priest, while innocent, would rather have gone broke than be subjected to the ordeal of being yanked from his flock, and everyone in a 100 mile radius seeing a Front Page notice of the complaint, and 3 years later, mention of his exoneration on page E-14, in between ads for a car dealer.

  3. Liz says:

    It is horrifying. The poor priest! Additionally, the more I read Fr. Gordon MacRae’s thesestonewall.com the more horrified I am by these sorts of things. Please pray for Fr. MacRae. He’s a good priest who has been suffering in jail for years for something that never happened.

  4. MJ says:

    So sad!! I remember a man hanging around our parish awhile back asking for money, and Father told us “don’t give him any cash. none. zip.” Instead a few of the guys got the guy a Walmart gift card and a gas can with 5 gal of gasoline for the guy’s truck (he claimed it was out of gas a few miles down the road). So glad no one gave him $$! He still hangs around the parish…I see him every so often…and Father never gives him cold hard cash. Just other help like food, etc.

  5. Boanerges says:

    Where’s SNAP? I figured their “(pr)editorial” staff would have immediately accused the priest of the baseless charges only to slink away when the truth was exposed.

  6. Dorcas says:

    I was so upset when I read this. I sent an email to the diocese asking how I could make an anonymous donation to this priest, but a Msgr emailed back saying that it was not needed. I hope that this is true.

  7. Random Friar says:

    *sigh* I’m sure this is only one of the false accusations that have been brought forth. The priest can do little to defend himself in the media, while SNAP heats the tar and plucks the feathers.

    Pray for priests and religious. Please.

  8. Laura R. says:

    What a tragic story! Apparently the priest is not now suspected of anything; what would have happened, I wonder, if he had gone to his bishop and the police before continuing to give the extortionist so much money?

  9. KAS says:

    I wonder how long until the draconian methods of the diocese handling accused priests ends up with a civil lawsuit against the diocese by some falsely accused priests who object to having their lives ruined and no defense from their bishop.

    Really, this business of guilty if accused is just plain WRONG.

  10. Mike says:

    I think the next time a guy tries this on a priest, that priest ought to wear a wire–as they say–and tape the transaction, and then turn the blackguard in to the cops.

  11. disco says:

    I’m sure SNAP would just say that the priest was clearly guilty, else he wouldn’t have paid the hush money.

  12. Maltese says:

    As an ex-Prosecutor, I can honestly say it’s better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man get convicted. Likewise, there is nothing worse than being a child-predator, except being falsely accused of being a child predator. Let’s pray for balance, as even innocent Priests are under attack…

  13. cpaulitz says:

    I feel for this priest. I do.

    But I think there’s a lesson from St. Dominic Savio that could apply here.

    He could have either taken the punishment coming as a sacrafice for God or just fought back. But to hand over cash, that MAY have been from his earning as a priest and, ultimately, from the pockets of his parishioners, I don’t think is acceptable.

  14. iudicame says:

    If I were this priest then I would have done the honorable thing and refused the extortion. Seems to me he has more to fear from his bishop then from an accuser. The best defense is the truth. m

  15. eulogos says:

    I want to second Liz in her suggestion to pray for Fr. MacRae. The threat made by this lowlife was a very real threat. In fact, he might well have made more money making an accusation! Fr. MacRae had an inmate come up to him and ask for the name of a priest and where he was at a certain time, so the inmate could make an accusation and get some of that easy money the bishops were handing out. He offered to share the money! Of course Fr. MacRae refused. Later this man did make an accusation. Fr. MacRae wrote to the priest’s bishop, but never received a reply. People have received settlements even when the priests they accused weren’t in the place named by the accuser even close to the time named. Even if an accused priest is found innocent, his diocese may not accept him back as an active priest because their insurance company considers him too much of a risk to insure.
    The real horror of what some priests did does not take away from the also real horror of what happens to priests falsely accused. It is a wonder that men are still willing to become priests and serve God when doing so exposes them to this risk.
    Susan Peterson

  16. iudicame says:

    “The best defense is the truth”

    Silly me – I forgot to add – But! But! But!…..

    [funny how we get hung up on things like PRINCIPLE]

    m

  17. Elizabeth D says:

    This is an extremely upsetting story.

    There are a significant number of people in my city who make money by persistently approaching strangers and telling them a false story of some kind. They know church people tend to be generous. The Society of St Vincent de Paul or other organizations that help the needy tend to be street-smart about how they provide assistance–I don’t want to exclude personal charity, but often it’s best to refer people to an aid organization.

    Fr Z posted some while ago a little mention of a group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii which provides support and assistance (including legal assistance) to priests in various kinds of difficulties. Everything I can find out about it suggests that it is a good organization. They, naturally, accept donations. http://www.opusbono.org
    Currently on their front page they have a statement that describes what accused priests go through, even if innocent; if I am understanding them correctly they are mentioning the bishop who was accused, and who was not subjected to all of what accused priests go through, in order to ask for just treatment of priests. They are not against bishops, they have letters from some bishops and well known Catholics praising them.

  18. Tim Ferguson says:

    Bl. Henry Suso was falsely accused of sexual impropriety and, even after he was cleared of the charges, lived under that specter for the remainder of his life. I often invoke him in my prayers for those priests who have been falsely accused. It must be a horrific thing to endure.

  19. Thanks, Tim, for mentioning Bl. Henry Suso, O.P.

    I used to teach his Exemplar regularly but he didn’t fit into my new teaching schedule at Univ. of Virginia after 1999. Sadly, I never taught him after the feeding frenzy of law suits and accusations started. His suffering are a great model for priests, who all live with the possibility of things like this news item happening to them. He is a wonderful, witty, and down to earth mystic. And his self-criticism is disarming. Never a dull moment.

    I recommend this beautiful translation of his works: http://www.amazon.com/Henry-Suso-Exemplar-Classics-Spirituality/dp/0809129868/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1314415515&sr=8-1

    (Disclosure: I have not connections to this edition and no financial interest in it.)

  20. Liz says:

    Thanks, Susan. I am happy when I see that others are praying for Fr. MacRae too. The injustice is unbelievable. God bless our priests.

  21. frjim4321 says:

    I have nothing to base this on, but my gut feeling is that the percentage of false allegations is somewhat higher than the 3%-5% that the “experts” cite. I know of two case in which priests passed multiple polygraphs but were still removed. I’m not denying that there are very serious substantiated cases out there…but I am sure there are more false allegations than are mentioned these days.

  22. sawdustmick says:

    I know this may be a tricky one, but is there any way we can help this Priest financially to cover any debts he has incurred ?

  23. donantebello says:

    Isn’t the Dallas Charter great!!!

  24. Ulrich says:

    @sawdustmick
    See: Dorcas 26 August 2011 at 4:41 pm

  25. Joseph-Mary says:

    SNAP is not interested in the rights of ‘victims’ any more: its purpose is to attack the Church through the priesthood. This is why they look for decades old, often unproveable situations.

    They are funded by the big money from Anderson and others who have made millions upon millions suing the Church. Just heard Bill Donohue on the World Over speaking about all this.

  26. Poor priest! Too bad he didn’t record the conversations with the extortionist; this may not have gone on so long.

  27. Cathy says:

    When is enough, enough? Right anger, sorrow and disappointment was expressed when the scandals broke, but mostly because it was known by the right people and their response in light of this was scandalous. Now we have extortion and witch hunts under the guise of “boundary violations”. Could somebody in their right mind explain this. I can’t help but to wonder, in today’s police the priest climate, would Father Flanagan or St. Don Bosco be possible? According to today’s standards of priestly conduct, would these men have been judged “unfit for priestly ministry”?

  28. Fr Martin Fox says:

    The comments are tremendously heartening.

    Maybe I am unusual in this, but as a priest, I often get discouraged thinking about whether many of the faithful would have any sympathy for this issue. After all, we have “SNAP” which–I would bet real money–has never spoken up in behalf of a priest who was accused and cleared. In their universe, there simply is no such thing as a falsely accused priest. Same with that frightening mob at the NCR. There simply is no such thing as a faslely accused priest in their world. Think about that.

    A few weeks ago, I did what is now considered a terrible thing. After Mass, I realized the server–a good young man in 8th grade who, nevertheless, needs guidance getting things right, not just almost-right–could benefit from being shown something. So, while his parents were chatting after Mass, I said, “come with me, I’ll show you something.” And he cheerfully followed me to the sacristy, I showed him how to set the chalice on the altar, and that was that.

    Then I realized: I forgot to have another adult present. I actually felt guilty.

    Yesterday, I was more careful. When the students arrived to vest for Mass, I exited. Basically that’s how it works. Unless there’s another adult present, the kids get the sacristy to themselves.

  29. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Fr. Martin, your comment, this story, Fr. Gordon’s, and so many others make my heart break. That you are made to feel guilty for a charitable mentoring of a young man who may very well be swayed to the priesthood through your generosity is unfathomable to me. That Fr. Gordon is forced to shepherd the faithful from behind bars boggles my mind.

    Oh my heart breaks for you all. Our priests… what are we doing to you wonderful men? What are we doing to the hand-chosen ministers of Christ, Himself? Oh dear priests, know you are loved, appreciated and prayed for. May you feel the kiss of the Holy Spirit always. {Hug}

  30. Denita says:

    St. John Vianny, Pray for us all! BTW what does SNAP stand for. Sorry, I’m ignorant.

  31. BethanieRyan says:

    This is an awful story! I don’t know what is worse, the story or the fact we live in such a world that a priest would feel pressure to give this man money rather than go to the authorities.

  32. Roderick Alvernaz says:

    I just have to say, Many thanks to Tim Ferguson (8/26) and Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. (8/26) for mentioning Bl. Henry Suso, O.P.! Here is someone we can invoke for all those priests who suffer under the weight of false accusations. There are different kinds of martyrdom. And even after being cleared of a false accusation, the horrible stigma remains. Blessed be God, in His angels and His saints!

  33. Mdepie says:

    Here is the elephant in the room. It appears to me that the Bishops have opted to simply settle each and every case of alleged abuse. If any diocese has elected to actually fight a case I would love to hear. Obviously it stands to reason some of the cases involve false accusation. Good Lord, even on death row regarding individuals who have been convicted of crimes before a jury, it is now well established that when DNA evidence has become available they had wrongly convicted the individual in large numbers of cases. ( the “Innocence Project” started at Yeshiva Univ school of Law) has identified close to 300 cases of those falsely incarcerated some on death row.) It seems reasonable to assume that in the absence of a trial the Church is, at least some of the time, just settling cases to make them go away. Moreover it should be obvious that the plaintiffs bar, SNAP and like groups are exploiting the crisis to wound an institution they detest ( the Church) or make themselves rich. In this environment it should be obvious lots of priests will be thrown under the bus. Unfortunately the tragedy is that enough priests are guilty or admit wrongdoing and enough Bishops have been guilty of acts bordering on criminal wrongdoing, that it creates a witch hunt mentality. Anyone who protests is accused of lacking sympathy for the real victims or absolving the real criminals. Still surely somebody is falsely accused. Can no one be innocent. In what other situation are 100% of the accusations true.

    The Bishops do not seem to want to protect any one. I would think it makes sense to have a legal defense fund for priests who want their day in court. Frankly in the United States we presume innocence, everyone accused of a terrible crime should have some ability to defend themselves. We afford this right to rapists, murders, even terrorists.. In fact we give this right to abusers outside the Church. We should afford this right to priests as well. This goes without saying those who are guilty should be punished. If you are guilty of child abuse I am fine with locking them up and throwing away the key, but we should not assume guilt. I have no doubt that in many cases that is what is going on. And one more comment. It should be obvious that very few of the cases involve child abuse. Most of the “abuse” cases involve gay sex between a priest and an older teenager. This is of course immoral. It is a disaster on several levels but it is difficult to put these cases in the same category as the molestation of a child. When I was 16 If I was approached inappropriately by a gay priest I have no doubt I would have rebuffed the advance, and every heterosexual 16 year old boy I have ever known would have responded similarly. Moreover in cases where a young male has had inappropriate relations with an older female, while this is wrong for both parties and perhaps manipulative on the part of the adult, no one imagines this kind of relationship is non consensual. What was going on ( bad enough as it was) is being distorted by those with an agenda.

  34. AnAmericanMother says:

    Mdepie,
    How right you are.
    I can tell you from my days as a courthouse lawyer that there were companies that would always settle rather than try a case, and lawyers who were afraid to try a case. And we all knew who they were.
    Settlement negotiations were conducted accordingly.
    I also had a couple of clients who would take any fraudulent claim all the way through trial and appeal, even if the costs exceeded the settlement demand. Their stated purpose was to scare away all the other potential fraudulent claimants, to make the game not worth the candle. We once had a two week jury trial on a fire insurance claim on a small policy with $15,000 coverage. Obvious arson (gasoline all over the place), obvious insurance fraud (the plaintiff’s illegitimate brother in law and his common law wife were in federal prison for burglarizing houses to steal appliances and furniture to put into places they were burning for the insurance money). Costs of the trial, experts, legal fees ran to almost $20,000 (this was back in the mid 80s, I’m sure it would be more now.) The judge said he hadn’t had a defense verdict in an arson case in 10 years (it was a small north Georgia county where “selling it to the Yankees” was practically a spectator sport). But we got our defense verdict, and a little old lady juror came over to the table and announced, “She burned that place! Sure as sure!” “Yes, ma’am.”
    The point of the war story is that you have to take a stand, or every shyster and fraudster within earshot will be taking you to the cleaners.