FAIRFIELD — Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church contends John O’Brien has nearly $167,000 a parishioner willed to the Catholic church – but diverted by a since-deceased pastor into a private account.
O’Brien, who lives in Los Angeles County, says he has only part of the funds and that all of the money was intended for the retirement of the Rev. Thomas Meyer, the church’s pastor until his death in 2009.
The Southern California man said he will follow Meyer’s wishes for the money and had long known Meyer, a member of the Carmelite Order, whose religious name was Sebastian. O’Brien, who delivered the eulogy at the 2009 funeral Mass for the pastor, said Meyer died at the age of 76, a week before his planned retirement. He died of a heart attack after minor surgery, O’Brien said.
Meyer raised millions of dollars and made it possible for Mount Carmel to open a new church building in 2003, O’Brien said.
O’Brien declined to detail how Meyer wanted the money spent, but said he would talk about that and other matters when the case is resolved. He said the financial transactions, when compared with Mount Carmel and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento’s claims for the funds, are compelling.
“It would shock most people when they see all the details laid out,” O’Brien said.
Diocese spokesman Kevin Eckery said the issue a simple, straightforward financial matter: the Rev. Meyer lacked the legal authority to transfer funds but did so, Eckery said.
“It was never his money to begin with,” he said.
Meyer was near the end of his life and wasn’t well, Eckery said.
“He wasn’t himself,” the diocese spokesman said.
A lawsuit filed by Mount Carmel in Solano County Superior Court contends that a routine audit conducted after a change in pastors after Meyer’s death led to the discovery that the pastor had wrongfully converted the money.
Trial setting is scheduled for April 10 in the suit, which was filed in 2012.
Mount Carmel parishioner John J. Vernon named Meyer as beneficiary of the funds in his credit union account, according to a court document filed for O’Brien. But the credit union after Vernon’s death in 2008 made the $166,954 check payable to Mount Carmel when the check should have named Meyer, the filing contends.
Because of how the check was written, Meyer was forced to deposit it into a bank account in Mount Carmel’s name, the filing adds. Shortly before his death, Meyer withdrew from the parish bank account the exact amount he received upon Vernon’s death and deposited it into a joint bank account of Meyer along with John and Kathleen O’Brien, the legal filing adds.
Mount Carmel church said in court documents that it sent the O’Briens a letter in 2009 demanding return of the funds but that the couple refused to do so. O’Brien said his wife is not involved in the matter and that he’s offered to discuss issues surrounding the finances but that the church instead filed the lawsuit.
O’Brien said he informed church officials about the funds and it’s inaccurate that an audit revealed the problem.
During a phone interview Wednesday, he called Meyer someone who “dedicated his entire life to doing work for God.”
“Does that make any sense?” O’Brien asked about the assertion that Meyer diverted church funds.
Mount Carmel has a portion of the money, O’Brien said, and the church received additional, separate funds from Vernon.
“They were given plenty of money but they want more,” O’Brien said.
He lamented what he said the church and the Sacramento diocese have done to Meyer by the lawsuit.
“It’s a shame what they’ve done to his name after what he did for them – an absolute shame,” O’Brien said.
“Everything,” he said, will “exonerate his good name.”
Eckery said Mount Carmel seeks what parishioner Vernon willed the church.
“We have a fiduciary obligation to the parishioners who contribute,” the diocese spokesman said.
He said the financial issues raised in the lawsuit involving a since-deceased pastor are rare, but happen.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church referred questions about the suit to the Sacramento diocese. The Rev. David Fontaine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel said Wednesday: “I know nothing about it. I have nothing to do with this. I just inherited the problem.”
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.