Rev. Robert Couture says he broke church policy, not the law
Posted: Dec 02, 2015 6:09 PM ETLast Updated: Dec 02, 2015 6:22 PM ET
A southern Ontario Catholic priest accused of embezzling more than $150,000 to fund his lavish lifestyle defended himself for a second day in Windsor Superior court Wednesday.
Rev. Robert Couture, formerly of Ste. Anne Parish in Tecumseh told a jury he broke church policy by asking couples to donate money when marrying them, but he maintained he did not pocket church funds.
During cross examination the Crown presented a letter between Couture and a bishop, which indicates parishioners were being charged double for wedding services with $100 going to the church and another $100 to the priest.
Couture, 52, was charged with theft over $5,000 nearly two years ago after a provincial police investigation of the church’s accounts revealed at least $169,000 in irregularities. The Crown claims Couture stole cash in several ways, including taking portions from collection plates and charging fees to funeral homes.
Couture, who is accused of using stolen money to fund trips to Europe, New York and Disney theme parks, told the jury he opened a second account at TD Bank for Ste. Anne’s without permission from the diocese.
Two separate bank accounts
When asked by the Crown why he needed this separate account, considering Ste. Anne’s already had an account at National Bank, Couture said used his “pastoral judgement” to open the account.
Couture was the only person able to access the account, which he said he opened in order to simplify the distribution of money donated from his parishioners. He also says the bank account allowed him to give money to financially struggling parishioners without shaming them by giving them money in front of people.
Couture also says he took money from the candle donation box and, for the most part, used that cash to fill petty cash.
The priest earned an estimated $85,000 a year before taxes, according to evidence heard in court.
His diocesan salary was $35,000, including $12,000 for his room and board. Couture earned an additional $10,000 as a school board trustee and $3,000 from teaching.
The rest, about $40,000, came from services such as funerals, weddings and baptisms, he said.
Couture’s saga began when parish officials asked KPMG to conduct a forensic audit of the church’s books. That investigation found thousands of dollars in missing funds between 2002 and 2010, and prompted the parish to contact police.
The three-week trial continues Thursday when Couture is expected to once again take the stand for further cross examination.