The pillowcase that the priest occasionally carried off to his room stood out because it was tie-dyed pink and purple, but also because it was full of cash.
Prosecution witnesses in the trial of former priest Robert Couture said Wednesday they remember thinking it was unusual the way he handled money from collection plates and other sources at Ste. Anne Parish in Tecumseh.
“I specifically remember on some occasions Robert Couture entering into the safe to retrieve collections, certainly with a pillowcase,” said Rev. Dennis Bedard, who was an associate pastor at Ste. Anne and lived with Couture for a year and a half.
Couture is on trial for one count of theft over $5,000. He allegedly pocketed money from donation plates, candle boxes, wedding and funeral fees and what a prosecutor called a “bogus” church bank account.
When police arrested Couture in 2013, they said he had stolen more than $180,000.
Bedard was among seven witnesses who testified Wednesday.
He said that after Couture took the pillowcase of cash out of the church safe, he would carry it off to his residence. Bedard said he sometimes saw Couture later return money to the safe.
The pillowcase was tie-dyed pink and purple, he said.
“Which kind of stood out for me because the other collections were placed in the safe in a Ziploc bag,” said Bedard.
He questioned Couture about the pillowcase cash.
“I felt uncomfortable that it was being treated differently.”
Bedard said Couture responded that he had a “special account” he used for things such as taking staff out for dinner. He said donations from the Sunday afternoon mass went into the account.
Bedard said that mass tended to be a “catch-all.” There were fewer people from Ste. Anne and more from other parishes who hadn’t made it to their own church for mass.
For that reason, said Bedard, Couture “did not feel it necessary to make a true accounting of that collection.
“He indicated he felt more at liberty to use that money in different ways.”
Pastoral minister Robert Langlois said that when he started at Ste. Anne, those who handled collection money would put it in sealed bags in front of other people. The idea, he said, was that no one would be alone with the money.
“But that was very, very short-lived,” said Langlois. “Robert, most of the time, he brought the collection himself.”
He said Couture would also put money in the safe by himself.
“He would leave with the money and go back to the rectory with it.”
Before Couture left Ste. Anne in 2009, Langlois said the priest told him about the “special account.” Langlois said Couture told him he would now be the one responsible for depositing money into it. This included money from the candle boxes, confirmations, baptisms and the fee Windsor symphony paid for renting the hall.
After Couture was pulled out of Ste. Anne, Langlois said he received calls from him following such events to make sure the money was going to the account.
“He wanted all that money to be deposited,” said Langlois.
Under cross-examination from defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme, Langlois also said that Couture would call wanting to know who performed a funeral to make sure that person got paid.