An Anglican priest who took thousands of dollars from his church stood up in a St. John’s courtroom Tuesday and asked his parishioners for forgiveness.
“I’m very sorry. I’m very sorry,” John Dinn said turning to face a small group of St. John the Evangelist Church representatives, who sat in the back of the courtroom at provincial court in St. John’s.
“OK, address me now,” Judge Mike Madden told Dinn.
“I just ask that they forgive me,” Dinn continued, turning back to face the judge. “I really apologize for the impact it’s had on the parish and my family.”
And if the victims’ statements were any indication, the impact was huge.
“We were all shocked, angered and hurt, but for many, it went much deeper,” church warden Lisa Cox wrote in her letter, read aloud by the judge.
“We felt deceived by our priest! … It wasn’t just the money, but also our trust which was broken! We feel our faith had been tampered with. We felt manipulated. Our hearts were broken.”
Dinn and his wife, Catherine Dinn, admitted to swindling thousands of dollars from the parish between May and November 2012.
John Dinn, 55, pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud under $5,000 and one count of theft under $5,000, while Catherine Dinn, 52, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud under $5,000.
According to the facts, read out by Crown prosecutor Sheldon Steeves, the couple took cheques at the Conception Bay South church that were meant for various charities, including the Mustard Seed Project and the Primate World Relief and Development Fund.
The couple both forged John Dinn’s name on the cheques and deposited them into their joint bank account.
In total, they took more than $9,500.
The irregularities in the parish finances were discovered in December 2012 by the parish treasurer, who contacted police. Dinn was suspended as rector and was later dismissed permanently.
Once they obtained legal counsel, the couple paid back $8,017.
John Dinn was responsible for forging two cheques — including one as an early paycheque for himself, while his wife forged three.
Empty envelopes that were supposed to have contained $1,625 were also found in John Dinn’s desk. Most of the money was intended for the parish for five weddings, with $75 for the caretaker. John Dinn had taken the money for himself and never paid it back.
Parish secretary Madonna Scott was among the group that sat in the back of the courtroom Tuesday.
She said what the Dinns did has affected her life emotionally, physically and psychologically.
“I was stressed to the point of being physically ill and had to seek medical attention,” she said.
Ken Carter, who was parish treasurer at the time, was also in court and had his statement read.
He said he considered John Dinn a trusted friend.
“However, these beliefs and my valued friendship were shattered just days before Christmas in 2012,” he wrote. “I was in disbelief, frustrated and very disappointed.”
He said it’s disheartening when the hard work of volunteers, who try to help less fortunate people, is affected by those in authority.
The prosecutor suggested a three-month conditional sentence for John Dinn and a suspended sentence for Catherine, each with probation. He said the remainder of the money, $1,625, could be repaid.
“This (case) goes beyond what you’d normally see if somebody steals from a store,” Steeves said.
De Jong said a discharge for both would be appropriate. He said the couple has gone through a difficult time in recent years, both financially and psychologically. He said Catherine suffers from chronic pain from an accident in 1999 and became addicted to painkillers, while John Dinn has developed mental-health issues.
Both are undergoing psychiatric treatment, de Jong said.
He said what they did wasn’t planned, but was rather, more impulsive and they regret the impact it’s had on everyone.
It was the first time the couple appeared in court, as de Jong represented them on previous dates.
They’ll be back Aug. 26, when the judge is expected to render his decision.