Kendall, NY - A nun is accused of stealing from two churches in Orleans County.
Officials say Sister Mary Anne Rapp stole about $128,000 from St. Mark Church in Kendall and St. Mary in Holley.
She pleaded not guilty to class C felony grand larceny charges in Kendall Town Court Monday evening. She was released on her own recognizance.
Orleans County District Attorney Joseph Cardone said it was the first time in his more than two decades as DA that he's had to prosecute a nun.
"This is a first...and that's sad," Cardone told WGRZ-TV. "It's sad when anybody has to be prosecuted but particularly a nun. As you know, people place a lot of faith in her and turn to her for their own problems at times so it just is unfortunate and it shows that anybody can be involved in some type of criminal behavior."
It is alleged that the theft occurred over the course of perhaps several years, prior to November 2010, when Sister Rapp had oversight of the donations taken in at both churches.
Sister Rapp is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a class C felony punishable by up to 15 years behind bars.
"The way we were made aware of it was by the church," said Cardone. "In fact they contacted us about these allegations, and asked us to investigate them independent of an investigation they were doing themselves. The Church has cooperated with us every step of the way."
Kevin Keenan, a spokesman for the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, said apparent improprieties surfaced after a new Pastor appointed to those parishes called for an audit of the churches accounting practices, as is his prerogative.
"The audit was started in November of 2010. In February of 2011 she (Rapp) was placed on administrative leave and then in April of 2011 she was terminated from the position of pastoral associate," Keenan confirmed.
Keenan also stressed that the church tries to do all in its power to safeguard the donations made by parishioners, to ensure they are being used for their proper intent.
"Over the course of time different procedures have been put in place, the latest in 2008 under the episcopacy of Bishop Edward Kimec. If these policies are followed, the likelihood of something like this happening diminishes greatly...yet at the same time people can be very clever when it comes to committing a crime," Kennan said.
A source tell 2 On Your Side the nun allegedly took the money to gamble, however Cardone would not officially confirm that, pointing out he needn't show motive to prove his case.
"We don't have to show what she did with the money...we have to show that she took the money," he said.
Asked if the money was gone, Cardone replied, "well, she certainly hasn't turned it back over to us...we have to assume at this point it has been used in some manner and we're certainly looking to get it back."
However, should the funds have been expended, it is unlikely a nun making poverty wages would be able to make restitution of the full amount.
Keenan says the diocese has insurance against theft.
Keenan added that Sister Rapp's future status as a nun would be a question left up to the order to which she is associated.
Sister Edith Wyss, provincial minister for the 138 members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, released this statement:
"This is a difficult time for all of us, especially those of us who have lived and worked with Sister Mary Anne for her nearly 50 years in our community. We cannot and do not condone the conduct alleged in these charges.
"When she was placed on administrative leave from her parishes in February 2011, she agreed at our order's behest to seek treatment for her gambling addiction. She spent 9½ months in an in-patient treatment program and has maintained her recovery in the year since. As sisters we continue to pray for Sister Mary Anne and help her deal with her addiction, which sadly is prevalent in our society.
"The investigation and the legal process must run their course and we have no further comment at this time. We would add that for the Sisters of St. Francis, this is a private matter involving one of our own and we would ask that our privacy be respected."
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