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Diocese Still Has Work to Do

While the long process of receiving justice for the thousands of Catholics who live in the Diocese of Steubenville moved closer to being resolved this month, there are still questions that must be answered.

David Franklin, the diocese’s former comptroller, entered into a plea deal in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court earlier this month.

The list of illegal activities committed by Franklin is long and includes falsification, theft of funds and the defrauding of creditors. Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Michelle Miller sentenced the 69-year-old Franklin to 18 months in prison and ordered him to pay $532,115 in restitution.

It was in 2017 when the diocese claimed it had discovered “irregularities” in Franklin’s accounting records and financial reports, after an independent accounting company had determined $2.8 million in payroll taxes had been collected but never turned over to the IRS. As a result, the diocese had to liquidate investments to cover the tax debt.

Franklin now will offer information that will help prosecutors determine whether other people benefited from his financial misconduct.

Among those to be targeted, Assistant Prosecutor Frank Bruzzese said, will be employees who received what have been described as “ungodly” bonuses. Some employees received between $128,000 and $221,00 in bonus payments during a 14-year period — in addition to a $300,000 bonus Franklin paid to himself.

We are left to wonder exactly how so much money could have been diverted from the diocese for such a long period. According to Bruzzese, there is no evidence that an audit or independent review had been done for four years prior to Franklin’s retirement. That, coupled with the acknowledgment of the lack of oversight over Franklin during his entire career, is very troubling.

Those are questions Bishop Jeffrey Monforton and his predecessors should have to answer.

Monforton said it is important to regain the trust of the thousands of parishioners who live in the 13 counties of Southeastern Ohio that make up the diocese.

It’s a process that will take time, but one that is necessary to ensure Catholics in our region that their support for the church and the diocese will be used to help others and not line the pockets of those in authority.

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