Witnesses recall pillowcase full of cash in trial of former priest Couture

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The Windsor Star

Published on: November 25, 2015 | Last Updated: November 25, 2015 11:24 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

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.

twilhelm@windsorstar.com

twitter.com/winstarwilhelm

27 Responses to Witnesses recall pillowcase full of cash in trial of former priest Couture

  1. Sylvia says:

    Can you believe it? After he was gone from St. Anne`s Father couture was still ensuring that the monies he had become accustomed to pocketing was still being deposited in his`special‘ account!

    The nerve!

    The outright gall!

    The shameless love of what he deemed the finer things in life!

    And, can you believe, he was using a brightly-coloured tie- tied pillowcase to drag the $$$$s around?

  2. J says:

    Be careful Sylvia……sounds like the account was in the parish name and not his personally. Sounds like there were legitimate expenses coming out of it…notice the cross exam question about making sure visiting priest was paid? What else was paid out of the second account? The accounting on this one is key. I’ll bet there is a lot more to come here and we may be surprised by the outcome. Lets wait and see.

    Last time I checked we still live in Canada where innocence is presumed. This one should prove fascinating. Reading between the lines, something smells funny here….in my opinion.

    • Sylvia says:

      According to yesterday`s coverage in the Star

      Meehan said Couture created a “bogus” TD bank account in Ste. Anne’s name that only he had access to. Meehan said the priest deposited thousands of dollars worth of the church’s money, including a parishioner’s bequest.

      My understanding is that it is that bogus account is one and the same as the `special account`referenced above.

      • J says:

        I have never heard of a “Bogus account”. There is an account or there is not one, in the parish name. If there is one, why use it to steal money and let everyone in the parish office know there is one? I don’t get this? Maybe he is just not an accomplished thief or maybe there is more to come in this story.

        The point is I don’t care how he carried the money….in a pillow case or a gun case…..the key issue is where did the money go once it went into this second parish account.

        As for a lot of what the crown has said so far most of it sounds very general and unremarkable but of course he gets paid to win and it makes great newspaper stories.

        For example the lifestyle stuff……My Parish Priest just got back from a week in Florida which I thought he well deserved. He also dresses with very good taste….so what? I have also seen him at a nicer restaurant in town having lunch…with parishioners……should he only eat at Burger King? Oh and he drives a newer model car which he uses to visit the sick and other ministerial stuff. Big deal!

        This guy may have done something wrong but I still maintain that this one seems out of the ordinary. So far the witnesses have said nothing that confirms the general statements. If it went into an account the tracking is easy. I do this for a living so I maintain that something is wrong here but there will be, no doubt, more to come and my questions may yet be addressed.

        My initial comment was to avoid a rush to judgement on this one as from my experience something is off here!

        • Brad Toulouse says:

          agree 100%

        • 1abandonedsheep says:

          J. Your comments are far out in left field. You do not seem to take into account that the Police Charged him, and the Crown has taken it to trial. Are you a would-be lawyer in waiting?
          I have banking experience, accounting experience, and know that anything this off is REALLY OFF.

          • J says:

            I think it is very naive to believe that because the crown and the police have proceeded that someone must be guilty. Do you have any idea of how these careers are made? This particular crown attorney is not known for his stellar decision making.

            Without getting into partisan politics …..in the post Harper Canada our civil rights in the criminal system have been significantly eroded. We have to be protected from all that violent crime out there you know! Your faith in the system may be dangerous. I know people who have been arrested and questioned for hours without a lawyer and this is now legal in Canada…..did you know that? The Catholic Church is not the only old boys club out there.

            As for the lawyers many of them are far more interested in promoting their so called careers then pursusing justice. I am not a lawyer but I am increasingly worried about this system. I choose to be suspicious of the motivations here.

            I find it interesting that so many here are not questioning this rush by the church officials to throw this guy under the bus? Look at them all lining up in their outrage! My, my, many of you are falling right in line? See my questions?

          • Sylvia says:

            Throw him under the bus? Are you serious? There surely must have been evidence of criminal activity for the diocese to contact police? And equally surely police must have found some evidence of some irregularities to lay charges?

            What exactly do you think should be done when there is suspicion of criminal activity involving parish funds.

  3. J says:

    Oh by the way….yes I am a would be lawyer and a would be theologian and a would be anything to understand the messy world around me…..I still have faith in the big sense but with what I believe is a healthy dose suspicion! !!!!

    Also I do not mean to be in anyway aggressive here as I am enjoying the discourse.

  4. Brad Toulouse says:

    Three things I’d like to mention briefly:

    1) The reason we have a judicial system in place is to hear evidence and determine if an individual is innocent or guilty. Let us afford him the right to a trial and not find him guilty in the court of public opinion!

    2) I find it fascinating, as well as disturbing that no less than 4 people so far in positions of authority and responsibility in Ste. Anne Church sensed something was wrong with Fr. Couture’s alleged behaviour, yet it has not been reported that a single one of them had the wherewithal to take their concerns to powers above. They could have anonymously sent correspondence to the Bishop and even said if this is not investigated they would go to the police. It appears they remained silent. And in that silence…..perhaps they too were complicit in this alleged crime. Christians are not taught to walk away from injustices, but to speak out, to name the wrongs going on in their communities, even if means persecution. Unfortunately these people will have to live with the knowledge that they knew about this alleged behaviour, but they turned a blind eye to it. They may had been able to prevent it, to stop the floodgates from opening further; however they chose not to and in doing so possibly contributed to its worsening.

    3) My name is Brad Toulouse…..I am a former parishoner of Ste. Anne’s Church. I do not use a “one word moniker” to describe who I am. I challenge people like you “Sylvia” if that is in fact your real name to boldly and publicly present your identity please.

    • DC Windsor says:

      I have to comment on this issue. I went back a re-read the articles and postings on this case. I also have received reports from friends present in the courtroom. So that part is second hand!

      First I noticed that the officials of London Diocese were very quick 3 years ago to rush down from London to St. Annes to publicly express their outrage at Fr. Roberts supposed crimes, from the pulpit by the way. Fr. Eugene Roy in particular can still be seen on u-tube righteously expressing his shock! Where were all these people when Fr. Charlie Sylvestre was caught. Fr. Roy is from the parish which Sylvestre served for years. Where were they; the bishop, the diocesan officials and all the rest?

      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!!!!!!!

      Third….why is this not in the paper……this is like a Perry Mason Episode on old time Television! Notice that the paper reported what the crown said and none of this….really? By the way this is the crown’s witness!

      Finally…..I have known Fr. Couture for years in the Windsor area and it just so happens he ended up teaching in our local shcool. He was never very elaborately dressed from what I saw. He was also a very good teacher.

      I don’t know about the rest of these accusations but I join in with some others here in saying…..HOLD ON!!!!! Lets let the process continue. I am disgusted with the poor reporting and I am suspicious of the motivation on the part of certain elements of the church.

    • 1abandonedsheep says:

      Brad, Her real name is Sylvia, and her name is found in several places on this site. Your sudden burst of involvement in the rights and wrongs of the Catholic Church is welcome, but, if you wish to run a blog than you had better start your own.

      • Brad Toulouse says:

        Thank you

      • Mike says:

        Brad’s blog would be very lopsided since in his wee mind he is pretty close to being the Second Coming. He has ALL the answers, knows ALL the faults and does little about it but flap his gums. If you disagree with him you’ll be labelled a “Jezebel Spirit”

    • Sylvia says:

      (1) Yes, the trial will determine is or not Father Couture is guilty. That, however, does not negate comment made by several witnesses on the handling of parish funds. The jury may well determine that Father Couture had a right to set up a ‘bogus’ account. The jury may well decide too that a priest is entitled to the best of the best in food, clothing, travel, entertainment and transportation. It is equally true too that that we may well hear testimony that Father Couture had some rationale for setting up this ‘bogus’ account. To my knowledge there has been no mention/yestimony as yet of gambling or alcohol abuse as was the situation in other cases. We who are not in court and are reliant on media coverage have no idea what Father Couture’s defence will be, nor do we know who will be called as defence witnesses and what they will say. We don’t have a clue. The trial is scheduled for three weeks. There is a lot more testimony to be heard.

      But, I can say that I am 99.999% certain that it is against diocesan policy for Father Couture to have opened that second account. I can likewise say with 99.999% certitude that Father Couture did not have the authority to utilize the monies he deposited in that ‘bogus’ account to, for example, wine and dine (or just dine) friends and/or parishioners.

      I have heard that during his seminary days Father Couture told people that he had managed to turn his room into a bit of a luxury suite through monies he had attained when he worked as an executive assistant to Eugene Whalen, ( Minister of Agriculture in the Trudeau cabinet) and from gifts received from people he met while in that job. So, who knows what we will learn?

      (2) There may well be testimony coming that someone in the parish contacted the bishop? I have no idea. I do – unfortunately indeed – know of cases elsewhere where parishioners expressed concerns to their bishop regarding their pastor’s handling/mishandling of collections and so on. All in vain.

      It is still not clear to me if Father Couture left Ste. Anne’s because (a) there were allegations of financial improprieties and he was hence pulled from the parish, given a Leave of Absence during which he attained a BEd at Ottawa U, and an audit was conducted. OR, (b) Father Couture decided that he no longer wanted to minister as a parish priest and instead he would like to teach, and that in that vein he sought and received permission from the bishop to head off to Ottawa U while on LOA , and that prior to his departure there had not been a word whispered about financial ‘irregularities, but following his departure from Ste Anne’s a routine audit (following departure of a pastor) unearthed financial irregularities.

      There may well have been more than one audit conducted. We shall learn more I am sure as the Crown presents its case.

      (3) As 1abandoned sheep says Brad, my real name is Sylvia. If you search the site you will find ample reference to my full name. My name is not now, and never has been a secret.

  5. Sylvia says:

    I will comment shortly, but first must ask if anyone has seen any coverage of the trial from yesterday (26 Nov.)? I have been trying without success – can’t find anything anywhere. I’m hoping this just means that there is coverage which has yet to be posted online, and not that there was no media in attendance yesterday.

    If you see anything please send me a link or post it online.

  6. J says:

    Well said Sylvia

  7. Brad Toulouse says:

    I really do appreciate hearing everyone’s opinions on this issue. And truly, no malice intended at all. I have chosen to leave Ste. Anne Parish for my own personal reasons not associated with this. Let’s just say that there is some very serious spiritual warfare taking place in that parish right now!!!

    • Mike says:

      You left because you had NO clue about the truth behind an issue you assumed to know the circumstances of. You left like a child who doesn’t get their way or gets criticized. Your “new” parish may see through you quickly and thereby avoid falling into the same trap St. Anne did. I’m sure you’ll attempt to work your “magic” on St. Gregory Parish as well. I pray the Lord will protect the parish and it’s parishioners from you.

  8. DC Windsor says:

    I have confirmed that at the trial Fr. Roy did admit that he has twice been found to have “borrowed” Money from the parish. He was corrected on this once and did it a second time. This came to light on inspection of the books apparently. It was revealed in the context of his criticisms of Fr. Couture’s clothing which he saw in the closet.

    Another point I would like to comment on is the discussion at trial surrounding the second Bank account. Sylvia is correct in saying that it is against the policy of the diocese to open a second account in the name of the parish. The line of discussion seems to be centering on this. The point here seems to be that this is a breaking of ‘company’ policy and not criminal activity. The accounting of the second account seems to be the only relevant point in determining whether Fr. Couture is guilty of a crime or not. I look forward to hearing more about this as I am sure we will over the next few days.

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