Northborough priest with gambling problem ordered to repay $239,000
By Jim Haddadin
Daily News Staff Posted Feb. 12, 2015 at 12:01 AM
WORCESTER - The former pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Northborough was ordered to pay $239,000 in restitution Wednesday after admitting he stole from the church to feed a gambling addiction.
Stephen M. Gemme, who resigned from his position in October 2013 after the accusations came to light, pleaded guilty in Worcester Superior Court Wednesday to two counts of larceny over $250 by a single scheme.
In addition to repaying his victims, Gemme was ordered by Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker to seek addiction treatment and speak publicly at least twice per year about his gambling problem at a venue of his choosing. He was also placed on probation for five years.
“Basically, I felt this was fair,” said defense attorney Carol Wheeler, who negotiated the resolution of the case with the Worcester County district attorney’s office and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester. “I’ve been on this case for a year and half. It’s a long process, and I felt that Father Stephen Gemme fell prey to the power of his addiction, which is compulsive gambling."
Authorities said Gemme took money from the church and its associated school over the course of five years. A member of the advisory board overseeing the parish first detected the unauthorized spending and brought it to the attention of Worcester Bishop Robert McManus. A subsequent audit showed Gemme had used more than $110,000 of the school’s money and $120,000 from the parish for personal expenses, according to a letter McManus penned in late 2013.
Gemme was ordered Wednesday to immediately repay at least $15,000 to the Diocese and $35,000 to its insurance company, Catholic Mutual Group.
Wheeler said Gemme met those obligations Wednesday and paid an additional $10,000 raised from a private party to the Diocese. The remainder of the outstanding restitution will be paid pursuant to the terms of a contract between Gemme, the Diocese and its insurer, which allows the parties to tap Gemme’s life insurance policy and his residual interest in a property in Westminster owned by his parents, Wheeler said.
“I was very happy with the even-handedness of the court, even though the judge has expressed her disgruntlement … and wanted to make sure that [Gemme] would adhere to the rehabilitation program in the future,” Wheeler said.
Before Gemme was sentenced Wednesday, Wheeler presented the court with 200 letters of support from friends, parishioners and fellow clergy members in the area, she said.
After Wheeler entered his guilty plea, Judge Kenton-Walker barred Gemme from serving as the fiduciary of any organization in the future. Gemme was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Wheeler said her client recently received treatment at Saint Luke Institute, a Catholic education and treatment center primarily serving clergy in Silver Springs, Maryland, and is adhering to institute’s recommendations.
Ray Delisle, spokesman for the Worcester Diocese, said the organization was eager for the episode to reach a conclusion.
"We're glad that this has been resolved and we've come to an end to the process,” he said.