The National Post
December 11, 2015 9:22 AM ET
A disgraced man of the cloth will retain the title of priest despite being found guilty Thursday of stealing as much as $234,000 from his own church.
A jury needed just a few hours of deliberation to find Rev. Robert Couture guilty of theft over $5,000.
Spokeswoman Emma Moynihan said the Catholic Diocese of London won’t move to have the former pastor of Tecumseh’s Ste. Anne Parish defrocked, but they also don’t plan to put him back in a church.
“He will still have the title of priest but he won’t have any of his faculties,” she said, adding the diocese only tries to defrock priests in sexual abuse cases. “It’s very difficult to get the title of priest removed. It’s a decision that the Pope has to make. So as of right now it is unlikely that title will be removed.”
Tyler Brownbridge/The Windsor StarRobert Couture walks towards Superior Court in Windsor on Tuesday.
From 2002 to 2010, when he was put on administrative leave, Couture stole between $170,000 and $234,000 from Ste. Anne Parish. He did it by pilfering from collection plates, donations from funerals, weddings, baptisms and mass donations, and what the prosecutor called a “bogus” bank account he set up in the church’s name.
When Couture was arrested in 2013 after a two-year probe, Essex County OPP initially said he stole more than $180,000. The jury heard the amount could be as high as $234,000. Assistant Crown attorney Tom Meehan said during trial that the true amount will likely never be known.
Meehan said he will likely seek jail time for Couture. He wasn’t sure what sentence he will argue for, but said the maximum is 10 years.
“The church and the parishioners trusted this person and their trust was violated,” Meehan said Thursday outside court. “We should all be able to trust someone, especially someone in a position of authority, and that trust was breached.”
Jurors began deliberations around 5 p.m. Wednesday following closing arguments and a two-hour charge by Superior Court Justice Scott Campbell. They broke off around 8:30 p.m., then notified the court shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday they had reached a verdict.
The jurors were given mountains of documents and testimony from about 20 people to consider during their deliberations. Bishop Ronald Fabbro and Couture himself were among those to take the witness stand.
“There were a number of schemes involved in this case, so the evidence was as complicated as the schemes that were behind them,” said Meehan. “He put a lot of thought into the way that he stole money from Ste. Anne’s Parish and that’s reflected in all the witnesses and all the paperwork. So it took some time to get it all out.”
Despite all that paperwork, defence lawyer Patrick Ducharme said he believes it came down to credibility.
“I believe that juries listen to evidence and decide issues of credibility and decide issues of what parts of the evidence they accept or don’t accept,” said Ducharme. “I’m not so sure they spend all their time trying to be accountants or semi-accountants on their own. I don’t know exactly what they considered but I think this was a case about credibility.”