A Downingtown Catholic pastor stole from his parishioners for years, authorities said, withdrawing parish funds on trips to his Ocean City, N.J., beach house; doubling his stipends for Masses, weddings, and funerals; and pocketing money congregants donated on All Souls Day to honor deceased loved ones.
In all, investigators said, Msgr. Joseph McLoone stole more than $98,000 over seven years at St. Joseph Catholic Church, one of the largest parishes in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. He spent some of the money — about $3,000 — on men with whom he had sexual relationships, authorities said, including an inmate at a New York prison.
On Wednesday, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office announced the findings of a yearlong investigation into McLoone’s alleged improprieties and charged the 56-year-old priest with felony theft and related offenses.
“Father McLoone held a position of leadership, and his parishioners trusted him to properly handle their generous donations to the church,” District Attorney Chief of Staff Charles Gaza said in a statement. “Father McLoone violated the trust of the members of St. Joseph’s for his own personal gain.”
McLoone’s attorney, Melissa McCafferty, said the financial investigation was flawed and her client is innocent.
“The Chester County District Attorney’s Office is overreaching,” she said Wednesday. “They filed these charges based off speculation, conjecture, and innuendo.... They won’t be able to prove them.”
McLoone’s arrest comes more than a year after his resignation from St. Joseph’s stunned the parish community that he had been sent to stabilize amid a scandal seven years earlier.
During his tenure, authorities said, McLoone secretly took advantage of the generosity of the parish’s 4,700 families.
He opened an off-the-books “St. Joseph Activity Account" on Nov. 2, 2011, his first All Souls Day as pastor there, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest.
Over the next six years, he deposited more than $125,000 in parish checks — including nearly $40,000 in All Souls collections, which parishioners traditionally donate to honor deceased family and friends — into the account, investigators said.
He withdrew $4,000 in cash in Ocean City, authorities said, and spent about $3,000 on men with whom he had sexual relationships. None of them were parishioners, the archdiocese said.
McLoone also doubled the stipends he was entitled to receive for weddings, funerals, and Masses to supplement his $26,000-a-year salary, authorities said.
He disclosed the “St. Joseph Activity Account” to church officials during a routine audit in late 2017, which led to an investigation by the archdiocese. McLoone was then placed on administrative leave and resigned as pastor.
In a statement Wednesday, the archdiocese called the charges against McLoone “serious and disturbing." He will remain on administrative leave in a private residence until the criminal case is resolved, spokesperson Ken Gavin said.
The District Attorney’s Office began its probe in April 2018, shortly after the pastor’s resignation.
McLoone cooperated with law enforcement, his lawyer said, and until this week was hopeful that the inquiry would prove his innocence. After the charges were filed, she said, he was devastated.
“Father Joe is a true priest, through and through," McCafferty added. “He is so anxious to get back to the ministry.”
His brother, Pat McLoone, is managing editor for sports at The Inquirer.
Msgr. McLoone was assigned to St. Joseph in 2011 to replace Msgr. William J. Lynn, who had been arrested for ignoring or covering up the behavior of pedophile priests following a grand jury investigation.
Previously, McLoone served as pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester. In a 2011 Inquirer interview before moving to St. Joseph’s, McLoone said he wanted his new parishioners "to know I will be there to support them, to walk with them.”
On Wednesday afternoon, St. Joseph Parish shared a letter to parishioners on its Facebook page. The post read in part:
“While the arrest is the latest development in this ongoing matter that has caused much anxiety and tension in our community, no new information has surfaced today.... Let us pray for and support one another with prayer and Christian charity, most especially in the face of difficult news.”
One parishioner responded, “I pray for our parish today. We’ve been through so much, yet manage to grow in faith and numbers! Don’t let the sins of man turn you away from why you’re part of this beautiful, loving community. #stjoesstrong”
Another simply wrote, “God help us understand why.”