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Priest can count blessings he didn’t face jury of his parishioners

The late Strip casino host Dan Chandler spent most of his life in gambling halls and racetracks and avoided churches whenever possible. He preferred the sports book to the Good Book and was fond of his Johnnie Walker Red, Cuban cigars and espousing colorful words of wisdom.

I was reminded of some of those wise words Friday as I watched light-fingered Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe enter U.S. District Court. McAuliffe was slammed with a 37-month sentence and ordered to repay the $650,000 in candle-fund cash he stole from the devoted parishioners of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. But Dan the Man’s words rang in my ears as U.S. District Judge James Mahan’s courtroom filled with McAuliffe’s supporters from the church and a local gambling addiction center.

“You hear people talk a lot about justice until they get into a courtroom,” Chandler would say in a booming Kentucky drawl reminiscent of Foghorn Leghorn. “Once they’re in court, though, they don’t want justice. They want mercy.”

Judging by the perspectives of Sunday’s column, I’m left wondering just how much mercy confessed video poker junkie McAuliffe might have received had he gone to trial.

St. Elizabeth’s parishioner Regina Hauck was representative of those who arrived at court up to three hours early to secure a seat in support of the defendant.

“He was very nice to me,” Hauck said outside the courthouse afterward. “He was very nice to everybody I ever knew. He must be sick. Why wasn’t that part of the sentence? Don’t you think it should be?”

Others weren’t so forgiving. There’s something about the theft of 650 Gs that strikes many people as a lot of dough.

“For all those who forgive him, chip in and pay the $650,000 back,” former St. Elizabeth’s parishioner Ray Iavasile said. “Now let’s see how many remain his friend. … If I stole $650,000 from the church, I’d be doing life in prison and they’d all be down there petitioning to make sure I got a stiffer sentence.”

Robert Landsperg would cut the check if he had it: “I’ve known Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe for 18 years, and I have grown to love and respect him. Yes, he made a mistake, a big one, but who of us hasn’t made a mistake? To err is human, to forgive is divine. Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ … If I had $650,000 I would gladly give it to pay off Kevin’s debt.”

Reader CarolAnn counters, “I am so weary of people trying to get away with crimes via claiming to have an illness! While I consider myself a liberal politically, I also consider myself intelligent enough to know when a crime has been committed. Most of these individuals are sorry, yes, but only because they got caught! If not caught, they would still be indulging (a deliberate choice of word) in their criminal behavior.

“… McAuliffe is a criminal, whether he is a gambling addict or not. He KNEW he had a serious problem the first time he stole from his congregation, but selfishly chose to continue rather than seek help. Now he must pay the price for being a criminal.”

Another reader offers, “I don’t know if Kevin McAuliffe has an addiction or not. I consider it irrelevant and applaud the judge for sentencing him to prison. If a man driving drunk causes a serious accident, can he then say, ‘Well, I’m an alcoholic, so you shouldn’t incarcerate me’? This priest stole over half a million dollars from his parishioners, some of whom lost jobs and homes in our failing economy. He didn’t use his own savings, (he used) theirs.”

Somewhere between justice and mercy, the light-fingered monsignor should count himself lucky he wasn’t being sentenced by some of these judges.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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