Priest resigns amid investigation

Missing money claimed at Huber Heights church.

The Rev. Earl F. Simone, pastor of one of the area’s largest Catholic churches, resigned this month amid allegations of financial wrongdoing at his church and has been approved for a medical retirement.

Huber Heights police are investigating allegations of what “may be a substantial” amount of missing money at St. Peter Catholic Church in Huber Heights, said police spokesman Sgt. Charles Taylor on Tuesday.

In a letter dated April 7 and distributed to parishioners at Mass last weekend, Simone announced he was resigning as pastor of St. Peter and administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary, St. Adalbert, St. Stephen and Holy Cross churches, all in Old North Dayton.

“Age, health and personal concerns have made my decision the correct one,” Simone wrote in the letter. “To those who I have angered or disappointed, I asked your forgiveness and understanding.”

Simone, who could not be reached for comment, has been on medical leave since late March.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati announced in mid-March that allegations of financial irregularities at St. Peter had been turned over to the Huber Heights Police Department after an internal investigation of an ethics complaint.

“I’m not going to talk about what we found because it is now in the hands of the police,” said Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese

Taylor said the investigation could last months, or even a year.

He said Huber Heights police were unaware of Simone’s resignation prior to inquiries by this news organization.

“There are no suspects that we are able to discuss at the present time,” Taylor said. “We are interviewing numerous people to figure out what has been going on at the church.”

According to Taylor, the investigation will continue until someone has been charged or unless the complainant, the archdiocese, asks that the investigation be halted.

Simone, 74, became pastor of St. Peter in 1992. The parish has 2,450 families and operates a school and pre-school. He stayed past the usual 6- or 12-year stint because once a priest turns 65 he is allowed to stay at a parish rather than move elsewhere in the archdiocese, said Andriacco.

Andriacco said he is not aware of where Simone is living now. He declined to comment on Simone’s medical condition, but said the medical leave was accepted by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr on April 9.

The two other priests at St. Peter — Rev. Robert Hadden and Rev. Matthew Robben — will temporarily take over as pro-tempore administrators, although both are scheduled to move to other churches July 1 as part of the normal rotation of priests. The archdiocese has announced that the pastor’s position is open and hopes to fill it by the time they leave, said Andriacco.

Simone or a business established by him own nearly $2.8 million worth of residential and commercial property in Huber Heights, a Dayton Daily News investigation found. Priests who belong to Catholic orders take a vow of poverty, but diocesan priests like Simone do not take a vow of poverty and can have investments. However, Andriacco said Catholic canon law forbids them from owning businesses without permission.

Andriacco said Schnurr was unaware that Simone had incorporated Flynn Realty Inc. of Huber Heights in 2003 and two other companies — Flynn Realty Enterprises Inc. and Flynn Systems Inc. in Springfield in 1995. Simone listed St. Peter church as his address on Flynn Realty incorporation documents filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office and most of his property tax bills are also sent to the church.

Simone or Flynn Realty own 32 properties in Montgomery County. Simone on March 10 transferred 10 properties that were in his name to Flynn Realty, leaving just one Huber Heights residential property in his name, according to Montgomery County Auditor’s office records. The most expensive property Flynn Reality owns is a commercial structure at 7760 Waynetown Blvd., which houses a Super Subbys and which the auditor values at $460,000.

Hadden said he was unaware of Simone’s personal business. He declined to comment on the investigation of the financial irregularities except to say the archdiocese initially sent in auditors and then forensic auditors before turning the matter over to police.

He said the allegations have had a strong impact on the parish, breeding cynicism and a lack of trust that he said he can understand. Other parishioners are holding off on forming opinions until the investigation is complete, said Hadden.

If criminal charges are filed parishioners “will take it hard,” said Hadden.

“Anyone that you put into positions of trust, I know that trust can be broken and people get hurt,” Hadden said. “We pray for everybody and we hope for the best results. There’s truth in there and we will find the truth.”

There have been no other resignations of staff at the church since the investigation became known, Andriacco said. Financial and pastoral councils will be reviewing the church’s policies and procedures, but so far nothing has changed as far as the handling of money, he said.

Sara Freihofer, a member of the pastoral council, said she was unaware of the details of the criminal investigation but that Simone “was upset” about it. She said he was a nice man and “very good for our church.”

“He’s been sick for a number of years and hung in,” she said. “He didn’t want to retire any sooner than he had to.”

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