A federal investigation focused on a popular priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church in Summerlin has angered some members of the large congregation -- and has church leaders pleading for patience.
Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe was placed on administrative leave in June while what the diocese described as an "allegation of a financial nature" was investigated and a financial audit conducted.
More recently, in parish bulletins and letters, church leaders have made mention of a federal investigation, emphasizing they must wait for its outcome before discussing matters further. Meanwhile, church members say they've heard talk of financial improprieties by the monsignor, but some also are seeking his return to the parish.
In addition to being the church's pastor, McAuliffe also held a high leadership post in the Las Vegas Diocese. He was the vicar general, Bishop Joseph Pepe's principal deputy and second in command. In June, a spokeswoman for the diocese said the allegation involved only St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and not accounts belonging to the diocese.
As of Friday, no criminal charges had been filed against the longtime priest, who came to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1997 and is largely credited with building it into one of the largest Roman Catholic churches in Nevada, according to Father James Jankowski, the man who replaced him at the church on an interim basis. Jankowski made his comments in a church newsletter.
Several phone calls to the FBI and IRS were not returned. Church representatives contacted to discuss the issue instead notified R&R Partners, the state's largest public relations firm. R&R spokeswoman Rachel Wilkinson had no comment pending a resolution.
More than 7,000 families attend St.. Elizabeth Ann Seton. McAuliffe is credited with building a school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade, a chapel and expanding its charitable outreach and religious educational programs.
As the weeks have passed with no new information forthcoming either from law enforcement or church leaders, the congregation has grown restless.
So much so, on Sept. 11 Jankowski, Father Jim to his congregants, published in the church's weekly newsletter a two-page letter pleading for patience.
Specifically, Jankowski asked that a "massive letter-writing campaign" seeking McAuliffe's return to the church be dropped as the diocese had to defer to investigators.
"Because of the ongoing federal investigation, the bishop's hands are tied," wrote Jankowski in his letter.
He also wrote that McAuliffe's "leadership and determination" played a key role in the church's growth.
Last week, Jankowski in another letter to parishioners informed them the diocese added a link on its website that will allow them to ask questions about McAuliffe until Oct. 9 (www.lasvegas-diocese.org/contact_us.html).
After Oct. 9, said Jankowski in his letter, the diocese will compile a list of the most common questions and respond at "a later time."
"I know many of you are concerned and I appreciate how patient and supportive most of you have been during this process with which we must comply," Jankowski said. "I pray for your continued understanding as I know that the uncertainty surrounding this matter has been difficult."
Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal. com or 702-224-5512.