When officials at Corpus Christi Church in Newton wondered why collections had dropped sharply, the Archdiocese of Boston launched an investigation, secretly installing surveillance cameras in a room where the money was taken after services.
What they saw shocked them.
Police said that a longtime usher, Richard D. Sonia of West Newton, was caught red-handed, lifting cash from the collection baskets.
"They had him on film stuffing money in his pockets and in his socks," Newton police spokesman James O'Loughlin said. "It was kind of funny."
Police have charged Sonia, 59, with larceny over $250. He pleaded not guilty at his Jan. 15 arraignment and was released on personal recognizance. He did not return phone calls yesterday.
Church officials first suspected theft when, according to the police report, Sonia allegedly took the collections into the room and stayed in there longer than was necessary.
His job was to put the money in a bag, which would later be placed in a safe.
Church officials then asked a trusted parishioner to plant $10 and $20 bills in the collection basket to see what would happen, according to a police report. The bills never made it into the collection bag; it contained nothing larger than $1 bills, the report said.
Church auditors have estimated that collections were down $17,000 in 2007, compared with 2006.
According to a survey of 177 Catholic dioceses conducted by the Villanova School of Business in 2006, such thefts are not unusual. Eighty-five percent of the dioceses surveyed had experienced a theft in the previous five years.
Corpus Christi's pastor, the Rev. Frank J. Silva, did not return phone calls yesterday.
But in an open letter to the parish in last Sunday's church newsletter, Silva wrote that he would "continue to review the processes and procedures relating to parish collections" and work with the parish finance council to finalize any new procedures that may be necessary.
Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said church officials will not seek a harsh penalty in the case. "For us, full restitution would suffice," Donilon said. "We're not going to sit here in judgment of this person. We'll let the legal process play out."
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.