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Church finances under scrutiny

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Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2004 8:37 am | Updated: 4:54 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Mesa police are investigating the finances of a Catholic church whose pastor resigned in December after an audit.

Michael Haran, an attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said the audit of Holy Cross Parish, 1244 S. Power Road, unearthed a number of problems with petty cash and credit cards.

"It is a significant amount," Haran said.

The Rev. Dennis Riccitelli resigned as pastor Dec. 16 after meeting with Monsignor Richard Moyer, vicar general and moderator of the Curia of the diocese, to discuss the audit.

"Because we concluded that there was reasonable suspicion that there may be criminal activity involved, plus our difficulty in obtaining certain necessary records, Bishop Thomas Olmsted decided that help from the authorities was needed," Moyer said.

A parishioner came forward "with some pretty hard evidence" of financial irregularities in November, Haran said.

Sgt. Ruben Quesada, Mesa Police Department spokesman, confirmed that detectives began an investigation Tuesday but said there is little to report yet.

Allegations have been made "about financial irregularities in reference to Riccitelli," Quesada said.

Riccitelli refused to comment, and his attorney did not immediately return a telephone call.

Riccitelli acknowledged in a Tribune interview almost five years ago that he resigned from St. Jerome’s in west Phoenix amid a battle over personnel and finances before becoming Holy Cross pastor in 1996.

In 1999, parishioner Eileen Esch led a push to oust Riccitelli, citing questionable finances and absenteeism.

"This was not about people not liking him. This was about what Riccitelli was doing with our finances," Esch said Tuesday.

Moyer said Holy Cross, which has 2,800 families and celebrates 13 Masses every weekend, is in good financial shape with all major accounts intact.

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