Former Tecumseh pastor takes the stand in his theft trial

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Windsor StarPublished on: December 1, 2015 | Last Updated: December 1, 2015 7:08 PM EST

Robert Couture walks towards Superior Court in Windsor on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
Robert Couture walks towards Superior Court in Windsor on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. Tyler Brownbridge / Windsor Star

Rev. Robert Couture just wanted a thank-you card.

The former pastor of Ste. Anne Parish took the witness stand Tuesday to answer the charge that he stole from his church. Among the things he’s accused of doing is creating a mandatory fee for things like funerals and weddings, then pocketing the money.

“I always said you owe me nothing but you’re more than welcome if you want to show your gratitude,” Couture told the jury. “The most important thing to me is that I get a thank-you card. What you put in the card is up to you.”

Couture, 53, is charged with theft over $5,000. He is accused of stealing anywhere from $170,000 to $234,000 during his tenure at Ste. Anne between 2002 and 2010.

After court spent more than a week hearing from prosecution witnesses, the defence case began Tuesday when Couture took the stand. One of the issues he addressed was an unauthorized TD bank account he opened in the church’s name.

When he was at St. Patrick’s church in London, Couture said he had a similar account for more than seven years. He said it was a distribution account to deal with “challenges.” The challenge, he said, was that people would give him one cheque for several people involved in an event and expect him to distribute the money.

“I found that very uncomfortable and cumbersome,” he said.

Couture said in some cases he would pay altar servers out of his pocket on the spot, then take the cheque to the bank. When he distributed the money, Couture said some “definitely went to the church.”

He said he didn’t ask the diocese for permission to open the account, something Catholic officials previously testified was a requirement. Couture said he didn’t do that because he thought it was his job to run the parish as intelligently and effectively as he could.

“I opened it with a clear conscience that what I was doing was good.”

At Ste. Anne, he said he set up a similar unauthorized account. Couture said it was “definitely not” a secret because he told the church secretary and bookkeeper about it.

The account “simplified” things, he said, allowing families or a funeral home to write one cheque.

“It also created more privacy for helping the poor,” said Couture.

He said that when people donated to help the needy, the TD account allowed him to be discreet about who was giving the money and who was receiving it. People donating money often wanted to remain anonymous, he said, and keeping that cash flow out of the main account avoided embarrassment for those who needed the help.

Couture also denied instituting a mandatory $250 fee for funerals, but said he suggested a more “standardized” method. He said “simplifying honorariums” made it easier for families to discuss how much they should give the priest. Couture said the conclusion was that people could write one cheque and he would divide it four ways. The breakdown was $100 for the church, $100 for the priest, $25 for the wake service person and $25 to go into a dinner fund for altar servers.

Similarly with baptisms and weddings, Couture said he never told anyone they must pay a fee.

“There is only one thing that I ask,” he said. “I ask that you be just.”

Couture’s testimony continues Wednesday.

twilhelm@windsorstar.com

twitter.com/winstarwilhelm

6 Responses to Former Tecumseh pastor takes the stand in his theft trial

  1. Sylvia says:

    Did the Crown call any witnesses to testify as to what exactly Father Couture told them regarding honorariums or fees or whatever for weddings? I don’t think so, but could be mistaken.

  2. DC Windsor says:

    No they did not. Also yesterday it was revealed by Mr David Savel that they diocese treated Fr. Couture more severely then priests accused of Sexual Abuse. They did not follow their own guidelines when a priest is charged with a crime. Fr. Sylvestre got way more financial support and emotional support then did Fr. Couture. He was a “special” case and they decided not to follow their own policies…..interesting.

  3. Brad Toulouse says:

    So when Fr. Robert was at St. Patrick’s church in London…..long before his tenure at Ste. Anne in Tecumseh….he had done the same thing? And the Bishop never admonished him to stop? I’m sorry, but I believe this represents a systemic problem here in the Diocese of London. A Bishop who does not have the fortitude to demand behaviour from his priest, but turns a blind eye and allows it to continue from one placement to the next? The same Bishop who wants to invest 30 million into renovations of St. Peter’s Seminary, where only a handful of priests are formed each year? My head shakes in disbelief!!!

    • Cory windibank says:

      The bishop was not aware of the account he had at St Patricks on the side at TD.This did not surface until 2011.The bishop did not know of the account nor did he condone it.I have sat in on the trial everyday since it started.

      • Brad Toulouse says:

        Cory, I know you are a good decent honest man and are care deeply about Ste. Anne Parish. I take you for your word at what you say here…..sure wish this of course would have been communicated more clearly. Still…..I am skeptical with how the Diocese has handled this situation. More and more it seems as if a man who should have been reprimanded by his superior for a procedural/policy violation was throw under the bus and now has quite possibly had his reputation permanently smeared. If found not guilty, I expect the Diocese to make restitution to him for what they did to him.

        I would like to ask you though; you have been at the trial daily, yes? Can you lend any credibility to the following statement recently posted here?:

        “Second …yesterday my sources tell me that Fr. Roy testified. He said that he looked in Fr. Couture’s closet and saw that he had more pairs of pants then Fr. Roy did among other things. Fr. Roy is living such a humble life I guess……oops….then it came out on that in fact Fr. Roy has lately been investigated by St. Annes and found to have “borrowed” money unlawfully from St. Annes to the tune of 3500.00! He is being forced to return it!!! Are you kidding me? What a 3 ring circus!!!!!!!”

        Are you able to verify if this was the case? Many of us here are wondering…..

  4. jg says:

    He is good! …He made sure other people had their hands in the till, that way no one can tell for sure where the money went or who had access to it! He is good!…but this is a tactic used by petty thieves who detect an “opportunity”! The court won’t be able to decide for sure either…

    The fact that he was treated(by the church) more severely than Sexual abusers….not a surprise and a true indication of the “priorities”, in case anyone is still in doubt about that!
    A continuation, with new actors and a modified script! They are all very good but not in the sense they should be.
    They are masters of deception!
    “Reasonable doubt”?…is what he is now working on in the courtroom but he started a long time ago to play this game of Chess.
    The Court needs to find his mistakes to convict him.
    jg

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