Thursday, October 27, 2005


St. Joseph's priest steps aside for fiscal audit

WASHINGTON, New Jersey -- The Rev. Robert Ascolese of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Washington Borough is taking a temporary leave of absence while a financial audit of the parish is conducted, according to a letter from the Bishop of the Metuchen Diocese.

About a month ago, some parishioners questioned Ascolese's actions with regard to finances, according to a letter the bishop sent to the parish. Ascolese remains in good standing but felt it best to step aside and reside at a diocese retreat house while the investigation is under way, the bishop wrote in the letter.

"In order to avoid any suspicion of impeding or influencing these investigations, Father Ascolese has agreed to take a temporary leave of absence until all questions concerning his fiscal management of the parish have been satisfactorily answered," Rev. Paul G. Bootkoski wrote in the letter dated Oct. 22.

Joanne Ward, director of communications for the diocese, said Ascolese's decision to step aside was a precautionary measure. This way, there can be no misgivings about him being present during an examination of financial records or other matters, she said.

Parishioners should be assured Ascolese "is in good standing," she said.

"We in the diocese have our own auditing team under our department of finance, but in this case, our auditing team looked into this and determined an outside investigation (should be) done," Ward said.

She could not comment as to when the investigation began or which outside agency is conducting the audit.

Ascolese served his first eight years of priesthood at Emmaus House, the retreat center in Perth Amboy where he is staying, according to the bishop's letter.

"He understands the seriousness of the questions raised and the need to restore your confidence that what you give sacrificially to the parish of your hard-earned resources is being used appropriately and wisely," Rev. Bootkoski wrote in the letter. "He has assured me that he will cooperate fully with the investigators and auditors."

Although specific fiscal questions can't be answered until the investigations are complete, parishioners will be informed once the inquiry has been concluded, he wrote.

In the interim, Monsignor Michael Corona, pastor of Sts. Philip and James Parish in Phillipsburg, will serve as the temporary administrators of St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Father Dominick Dellaporte, who has served as a parochial vicar on a part-time basis, will devote his time to ministering to the church.

Ascolese received the "Beacon" Award for Excellence in May during the Warren County Human Relations Commission's 11th annual awards celebration.

A phone message left for the spokeswoman for St. Joseph's and a message left at Emmaus House were not returned late Tuesday night.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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