A disgraced priest who stole money donated to his church to fund his lavish lifestyle — complete with a Cadillac, fancy clothes and pricey vacations — was sentenced Monday to 10 months in jail.
Rev. Robert Couture must also pay back $75,000 to Ste. Anne Parish in Tecumseh, though it’s been suggested the amount he stole could be as much as $234,000.
“Most members of our community would find the offender’s actions repugnant,” said Superior Court Justice Scott Campbell.
A jury found Couture guilty of theft over $5,000 in December for stealing from his own church between 2002 and 2010. He did it by pilfering from church collection plates, and donations for funerals, weddings, baptisms and masses. Couture also had what assistant Crown attorney Tom Meehan called a “bogus” bank account he set up in the church’s name.
Meehan asked the judge to impose a 14-month sentence. Defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme argued for a conditional sentence, meaning no jail time.
Campbell said Monday the breach of trust, the amount of time the crime went on and the amount of money involved disqualified Couture from a conditional sentence. Campbell said Couture stole from Ste. Anne Parish, which means the families who attended the church were victims.
“The victims were vulnerable given their faith and trust in their priest,” said Campbell.
The exact amount Couture stole remains unknown. The jury heard at trial it was as much as $234,000.
For sentencing, Superior Court Justice Scott Campbell went on the basis Couture stole at least $75,000, which he used to live “well beyond his means.”
“The only apparent purpose for which the money was taken was to fund the offender’s lifestyle,” said Campbell.
Couture enjoyed fine dining and wearing expensive clothes. He bought his car with a briefcase full of cash. He took expensive trips to Europe, Jamaica, New York and Disney World.
Despite his conviction, the Catholic Diocese of London has said it won’t move to defrock Couture. But they also don’t plan to put him back in a church. He was put on administrative leave in 2010. Until his incarceration on Monday, Couture had been working as a factory labourer.
“He has suffered a substantial fall from grace,” said Campbell.
But the priest still has his supporters. A courtroom spectator yelled “take care of yourself Father” as he was led off to jail.
Meehan said Couture’s breach of the trust he received from hundreds, possibly thousands of people, was “the defining feature of the case.”
The sentence was “appropriate,” said Meehan, but he added it’s likely no one walked away from the courthouse happy on Monday.
“This was going to be a difficult day no matter what,” he said.
“Whatever the sentence, it was going to be difficult because that parish was harmed. The parish is part of the community, so the community was harmed. My sense from the very beginning was that this is just so challenging and sad a story that there was never going to be a lot of joy to come out of it. But at least from now on hopefully there can be some healing.”
First, what a disgrace to the priesthood. A priest …… working as a factory labourer.
That aside, the diocese says it does not plan to put Father Couture back in a church. What pray tell will they do with him? Perhaps the bishop has decided that Couture can ‘serve’ as a hospital chaplain? Imagine: a convicted thief who fleeced his flock dispatched to comfort the sick and dying? What an insult to those poor Catholics!
Perhaps the plan is to get him credentialed to be a canon lawyer? Imagine: a priest who violated the laws of the land and the laws of God interpreting and enforcing the law of the Church? What an insult to God and Church.
What else could he do?
Oh, yes, he could go back to work as a factory labourer, right?
What kind of nonsense is this?
What I fail to understand is this mania for keeping men in the priesthood who have proven themselves unfit to be priests.
Further to that, I fail to understand why a man like Father Couture even wants to stay in the priesthood. Surely he is smart enough to recognize the damage he has done to the faith of countless Catholics? Why does he not do the honourable thing and get out? Let him get his life and soul sorted out as a layman. I actually have no problem with the diocese providing these men some sort of small monthly allowance – better that than to continue to sully the ranks of the priesthood with thieves and sexual predators , and better that than to continue to subject Roman Catholics to criminals who masquerade as priests. And, if he wants to be a factory labourer, let him be a factory labourer, but not while he is still a priest and should be dedicating his life to administering the Sacraments and committing to help us save our immortal souls.
Final note: I have heard via the grapevine that there may be an appeal in the offing.
We shall see…..