Vicar General Pleads Guilty

News: US News
by Joseph Enders  •  •  May 19, 2021   

Lived large on diocesan dime

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio ( - A former diocesan official in Ohio is going to jail for aggravated theft.

Monsignor Kurt Kemo

Monsignor Kurt Kemo, formerly vicar general of the Steubenville diocese, admitted in the Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas last month that he diverted nearly $300,000 in diocesan cash to buy expensive clothes, flying lessons and hotel stays.

Kemo expressed that he is "very, very sorry," and emphasized that after making restitution, he hopes God will forgive him.

Kemo, 64, pleaded guilty to the court's bill of information, which charged him with two counts of aggravated theft without consent and theft by deception, and single counts of receiving stolen property and falsifying financial records.

Judge Michelle Miller sentenced him to six months' detention at Eastern Ohio Correction Center on each aggravated theft charge (served concurrently) and two years under house arrest for each count.

Kemo agreed to pay the diocese back the $289,000 he stole — also pledging to assist prosecutors in identifying others involved in diocesan financial crimes, including by giving sworn testimony if necessary. 

The judge appreciated the cooperation, but not enough to stop her from laying into the monsignor:

You've taken responsibility; you are returning and [making] restitution — it does not diminish the breach of duty that you had to your parishioners, the parishioners who make arrangements beyond their death, to donate to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and the parishioners who obviously are disappointed. And it probably shakes their faith when they see these things happening, but you don't need a sermon from me.

Kemo and former diocesan comptroller David Franklin "had control and authority to manage the affairs of the diocese," according to assistant Jefferson County prosecutor Frank Bruzzese. This includes bank accounts, the bills paid by those accounts and payroll information.

Bruzzese said the pair misused the funds, specifically the money delegated to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (SPF), mostly to pay the fraudulent bonuses and their credit card bills. 

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The SPF is an international society for supporting Catholic missionary work around the world.

The monsignor allegedly lied to Steubenville ordinary Bp. Jeffrey Monforton, claiming the diocese had assets it didn't have. 

Monsignor Kurt Kemo diverted nearly $300,000 in diocesan cash to buy expensive clothes, flying lessons and hotel stays.

"Money was being diverted into a 'slush fund' that Franklin used to pay unauthorized bills and to pay credit cards [Kemo] used to pay for his personal expenses," Bruzzese explained.

Bp. Jeffrey Monforton

This "slush fund" was a Chase Bank account, believed by diocesan officials, allegedly, to have been closed since 2010.

Bishop Monforton expressed his disappointment in his former vicar general.

"Many people, locally and diocesan-wide, have had their trust in the Church compromised," the bishop told Kemo in a victim-impact statement. "To put it bluntly, people lost their jobs."

But this isn't the first instance of the diocese being hit with scandal in recent years. 

In 2018, Fr. David Morrier, who worked at Steubenville's Franciscan University, was accused of convincing a student he was counseling that having sex with him was necessary for mental health treatment purposes. He was ultimately transferred to Texas.

The diocese explained that Fr. Morrier "is not a priest of the Steubenville diocese," noting they've always taken a serious approach to abuse.

Regardless of past scandals, Bp. Monforton has agreed to remain transparent and cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of financial scandal — pledging safeguards to ensure a financial scandal like this doesn't happen again.

Bishop Monforton concluded that Kemo's malfeasance serves as "a reminder that none of us is above the law."

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