The two top leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa are expected to testify in a trial starting Friday pitting a former parish office manager who claims she was fired for calling attention to shoddy bookkeeping practices and church officials who have accused her of theft.
Bishop Robert F. Vasa and Vicar General Daniel P. Whelton are expected to take the stand at some point during the two-week, nonjury trial before Judge Allan Hardcastle.
They will face questions about claims from plaintiff Jo Savage, a 28-year employee of St. Apollinaris Church in Napa, who said she notified Whelton of her suspicion that the pastor, William Donohue, was mismanaging funds worth $1.2 million.
Whelton vowed to take the information to the bishop after their meeting in May 2015, she said. But when Savage returned to work the next morning, she was summarily fired by Donohue.
Three weeks later, Savage’s adult daughter, Megan Dominici, director of youth ministry for 18 years, claims she was forced to quit, citing a hostile work environment.
Savage seeks unspecified damages for wrong termination. She and her daughter each seeks damages for defamation, claiming Donohue spread rumors they were embezzling.
Church officials have filed a countersuit, accusing Savage of gross negligence in caring for parish accounts. Among the countersuit’s claims are that Savage was responsible for causing tax penalties of $70,000 and that she paid her personal credit card with parish funds without explanation.
Also, the church alleges Savage failed to require documents from her daughter in support of about $270,000 in expenses for the youth ministry.
In her complaint filed last year, Savage said she became office manager in 1987 and was put in charge of parish finances in 2002. She claimed credit for key accomplishments over the years, including fundraising campaigns for church construction and safeguarding parish funds during a financial crisis and priest abuse scandal that rocked the diocese in the early 2000s.
She became suspicious of Donohue shortly after he was hired in 2012. He didn’t properly vet a contractor doing a remodel on the rectory and hired a new school principal without proper credentials, she said. According to her complaint, Donohue relieved Savage of her bookkeeping duties and underreported more than $100,000 in parish funds to its seven-member finance committee.
He became the sole source of information about the accounts, allowing him to make unauthorized withdrawals and receive reimbursement for personal items such as alcohol, she claims.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ppayne.
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