Attention class, this is how to bury a lead

FortLauderdaleDo you want to read a strange, strange, I repeat, strange story? Then click here. Talk about dancing around the subject and burying a lead. Here is the opening of a New York Times report by Alison Leigh Cowan about the financial sins of Father Michael Jude Fay, who is accused of misusing funds and some other minor problems.

The Rev. Michael Jude Fay had his hair highlighted each spring at a local salon at prices of $85 or more, his hairdresser said. His vacation getaway was an ocean-view condominium in Florida that he owned with a close friend from Philadelphia. And he repeatedly spent thousands of dollars on luggage, jewelry and designer clothes, even though his salary was a modest $28,000 a year.

To many of his parishioners at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien, Father Fay's lavish ways came as a shock nearly two months ago when the Diocese of Bridgeport demanded his resignation because of questions about his suitability for the priesthood, his lifestyle and his financial stewardship of the church.

Oh, he also had a flair for producing local versions of Broadway shows.

That enough information? In light of certain Roman Catholic teachings, I think that even the most tone-deaf reader would have a pretty good idea of what is going on there. Nevertheless, readers needed to dig deep into this long story -- in which many of the crucial details come from parish bookkeeper Ellen Patafio -- to hit a detail that might, just might, have needed to go higher in the story.

In the spring of 2005, Father Fay and his friend from Philadelphia, Cliff Fantini, a wedding consultant, jointly bought a $449,100 condo in Fort Lauderdale, property records show. Furnishings and monthly cable bills were charged to the parish, church records show. The two men are also listed as tenants of a luxury apartment on East 63rd Street in Manhattan, the building's staff said. Mr. Fantini, known professionally as Cliff Martell, also stayed at the rectory for extended periods, Ms. Patafio said.

Ms. Patafio said Father Fay showered gifts, meals and trips on Mr. Fantini. "Jude was always chasing after him," she said.

So this is a financial scandal with some other, more lurid, overtones.

That is, the other details are on the sexy side if you support the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality.

Which brings us to the amazing correction that the Times ran on July 12:

Because of an editing error, an article on Sunday about the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by the Rev. Michael Jude Fay, a priest under federal investigation in connection with allegations that he misused funds at St. John Roman Catholic Church in Darien, Conn., referred incorrectly at one point in some copies to the private investigators who documented questionable spending by Father Fay. They were hired by the church's bookkeeper and associate pastor, not by the church itself.

Now, even this correction is rather vague. Look at that last sentence. Does this mean that the church -- meaning the local parish -- had declined to investigate this priest? Or does it mean that the Church -- meaning Catholic authorities at the diocese or global level -- had declined to investigate what was going on here?

So the associate pastor, with an even lower salary, and the bookkeeper had to foot the bill for the investigation into this priest, his (or so it appears) longtime companion and their various residences?

I wonder if the local diocese is very happy about this. Who, precisely, is getting in trouble here with the Catholic powers that be? Is the parish united or divided on this issue, meaning the issue of the priest and the issue of his "lifestyle"?

How about the local bishop and the diocese? Whose side are they on?

I think there is a big story here, and I am not sure that much of it was printed in The New York Times.

Night photo of Ft. Lauderdale Beach by floridafunnyguy, via Flickr.

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