Priest suspended over R3 million

Father Desmond Royappen as parish priest at St Josephs Church.

Father Desmond Royappen as parish priest at St Josephs Church.

Published Nov 1, 2015


Durban - A prominent and much loved Roman Catholic priest has been suspended over the alleged mismanagement of almost R3 million.

Father Desmond Royappen was suspended for a year from the beginning of October and sent for “a period of reflection” to a parish in Mariannhill. He served at St Joseph’s Church in Morningside for 15 years and moved to Our Lady of Fatima church in Durban North earlier this year.

The head of the archdiocese of Durban, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, confirmed the suspension.

Napier said an initial investigation found evidence of financial mismanagement and that protocols had not been followed at St Joseph’s. A forensic audit was undertaken by Ernst and Young.

During this period Royappen paid back some of the money.

“Royappen admitted his negligence and wrongdoing in some very serious areas and his failure to observe correct procedures,” Napier said.

“He apologised privately to me and to the Parish Pastoral Councils and Parish Finance Committees of Our Lady of Fatima and St Joseph’s.”

Napier said many people had raised the question why an audit was needed when Royappen had admitted negligence.

“The Catholic Church is forever in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, and in recent years cover-ups have not protected the Church. Transparency and accountability is essential, and it is the reason for this course of action.”

The final report was presented to the cardinal and Royappen and to meetings at both St Joseph’s and Our Lady of Fatima.

The report concluded that there were serious financial irregularities and mismanagement in three areas:

* A bequest to St Joseph’s.

* A parish project aimed at raising funds.

* In the normal day-to-day running of the parish.

The report concluded that disciplinary action be taken in accordance with Canon Law (Universal Church Law) and the protocols and procedures of the southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

When the Sunday Tribune asked to see the report, the cardinal said it was a “private document”.

The suspension of Royappen has caused unhappiness among some parishioners at both churches. Some even signed petitions calling for him to be reinstated.

One person who signed the petition, but did not want to be named, said: “The manner in which the case was handled was just so unfair. Father Desmond had 24 hours to pack his things and leave the church. Furthermore, he didn’t steal the money, it was genuinely given to him as a donation. He is a humble man who would never take money from the church.”

Another congregant, who also did not want to be named, said: “Hundreds of signatures were on the petition to have him back as a parish priest. These were handed to the cardinal, but made very little difference.”

Napier acknowledged there was a group who were upset about Royappen’s suspension. However, he maintained there was no hidden agenda and the church was following proper procedures.

“There was a clear indication that Father Royappen had mismanaged a large amount of money.

“It is an amount of money that I will never make in my lifetime, an amount that cannot be ignored. As a cardinal, it was my responsibility to follow the protocols,” he said.

Michael Hulley, who spoke on behalf of Royappen, said: “Father Desmond does not wish to comment on any of the matters raised, this is the preserve of Cardinal Napier.

“Father Desmond remains committed to his vocation as a priest and his obedience to the cardinal and the authority of the church. He has accepted his suspension as a period of prayer and reflection in bringing about healing to all those affected.”

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