Keeping the faith may have a whole new meaning lately for parishioners in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton.
Within weeks of each other, the diocese has been rocked by two scandals. First, a priest charged with child sex crimes, and just yesterday a former employee charged with theft.
Both of those scandals were on the minds of parishioners at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton Friday afternoon when they gathered for the annual “Red Mass” that honors members of the legal profession.
Members of the Knights of Columbus lead Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera down the aisle of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton Friday afternoon. They do that each year for the “Red Mass” honoring members of the legal profession.
It came just a day after another person associated with diocese of Scranton is in legal trouble.
“To find this out is just horrible. You wonder what would motivate someone to do something like that, particularly in the job that she was in,” said parishioner Pat Baker of Blakeslee.
Former diocese office coordinator Sharon Warunek was arraigned Thursday on felony theft charges. She’s accused of using the church’s poor fund to pay her personal credit card bills to the tune of $340,000.
The arrest didn’t come up during the annual Red Mass, but in a statement Bishop Bambera said the diocese has increased its financial oversight since the alleged theft was discovered.
“It’s a very sad thing, and we will need to pray for her. Pray for her healing and for the diocese. We’ve had some rough days in the past but we’re going to overcome them,” added Peggy Bostwick of Pocono Pines.
Parishioners also recently saw one of their priests in handcuffs. Last month, Father Jeffery Paulish of Blakely was arrested after police said he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy.
The two arrests have parishioners emotional and also worried. They come just before church leaders begin their Diocesan Appeal to raise money for the church.
“That’s not a good thing, hopefully people can see a little bit beyond that and see the good that’s done rather than the negative,” Baker said.
“I really feel that the diocese has grown greatly under Bishop Bambera, and I think that people will give to the diocese, and I don’t think that will be hurt at all,” added Bostwick.
Father Jeffrey Paulish and Sharon Warunek are both out on bail.
As for their employment with the Diocese of Scranton, Warunek was fired last month, and officials said Fr. Paulish has been relieved of his duties since his arrest.