In a sudden about-face, a priest accused of stealing from his church has admitted
Only a few months ago, Grant McGuire, the Newark attorney for the Rev. James
J. Reilly, formerly pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Kearny, had declared that his client would be “vigorously defending” the complaint against him.
But on Friday, May 13, appearing before Hudson County Superior Court Judge Kevin G. Callahan in Jersey City, Reilly – accompanied by his lawyer – entered a plea of guilty to the charge of theft by unlawful taking.
Sentencing by Callahan is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 23.
Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Leo Hernandez, who had been preparing to
take the case to a grand jury before the plea, said his office would recommend probation plus 364 days in the county jail.
“And we’d be seeking full restitution (of the money lost by the parish),” Hernandez said.
Although, under state sentencing guidelines, he could have asked the court to consider imposing the maximum sentence – five years in this case – Hernandez said he opted for the lighter penalty “because (Reilly) had no prior indictable convictions.”
“We felt this would be a fair and appropriate resolution of the matter,” Hernandez
said. Hernandez said that Reilly “had oversight of several parish accounts” and that the priest “dipped into those accounts.”
He declined to elaborate, except to say that a presentencing report, based on interviews with Reilly, was expected to offer additional details on how and why the accused cleric committed the crime.
A warrant for the priest’s arrest, issued Feb. 15, alleged that Reilly, 68, “on or about 4/20/2010 . . . on diverse dates . . . did unlawfully take or exercise unlawful control over property, that being money, belonging to the Our Lady of Sorrows parish, with the purpose to deprive them thereof, in excess of $75,000 . . . a crime of the second degree.”
On Feb. 16, Reilly, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty to that charge before Callahan.
The charge to which Reilly has now pleaded guilty alleges that he stole “in the
range of $500 to $75,000,” a crime of the third degree, a lesser charge than the original accusation.
McGuire said his client’s guilty plea came as the result of a plea agreement negotiated with the prosecutor’s office.
McGuire said he would be “seeking a noncustodial sentence – probation” for his
client. McGuire said his client was “still in service of the Archdiocese.”
Archdiocesan spokesman Jim Goodness said Reilly was still a priest in the diocese but was unlikely to be assigned a new ministry. “We look upon this event with great sadness and hope the parish will now begin to heal,” he said.
“He’s looking forward to putting this episode behind him and moving forward with his life,” McGuire said.
Reilly, who posted bail after being charged, resigned as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in November 2010 after an Archdiocesan audit showed what Goodness
called “irregularities” in the parish’s finances.
At that point, Goodness said, diocesesan authorities contacted the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which began its own investigation. Prosecutor Edward DeFazio said that audit revealed that “at least $75,000 is unaccounted for.” Goodness declined to confirm that amount.
Reilly, a Jersey City native, was ordained in 1968. Having earned a master’s degree in public administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University, he previously served on the staff of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and as campus minister at
Bloomfield College, Upsala and Union County College.
A former pastor of Holy Cross Church in Harrison, Reilly was administrator of Our Lady of Sorrows from 2002 through 2005, when he was named its pastor.
After his resignation as pastor, the diocese named the Rev. Michael Ward, pastor
of St. Cecilia’s Church in Kearny, as the interim administrator for Our Lady of Sorrows.