Questions are swirling among parishioners at Saint Benedict Church in Baltimore after the removal of their longtime pastor over a secret $200,000 settlement he paid five years ago.
Was their leader falsely accused? How can they clear his name? What does the future hold for the historic parish in Southwest Baltimore?
Another question looms large over the controversy. How does a monk come up with $200,000?
The Rev. Paschal Morlino paid the money through a private attorney to a man who accused him of fraud and sexual assault. The Archdiocese of Baltimore removed Morlino for not disclosing the settlement, and church officials are now investigating the source of the money.
In a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview with The Banner last week, Morlino confirmed the payment while denying the allegations against him. He has not been charged with a crime. When asked where the settlement money came from, he offered several explanations, none of which reporters could verify.
First, he declined to answer the question. Then, Morlino said he didn’t remember where the money came from. Next, he said one person donated the money, which was likely deposited into and later withdrawn from the bank account of The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City Inc., a nonprofit he helps run that handles church business.
Morlino eventually told The Banner that two friends in Pennsylvania gave him the money. He said Bruno Ferrari gave him $150,000 and George Sweeney gave him $50,000.
Sweeney helped start the Adelphoi house for boys with Morlino, but he died in the late 1980s. The successful nonprofit continues today and takes in abused, neglected and delinquent youths. Sweeney’s widow told The Banner she knew nothing about a $50,000 payment to the pastor. Lawrence Sweeney manages a family estate, but he did not return multiple phone messages.
The Ferrari family operated a successful construction business in Western Pennsylvania. Bruno Ferrari Sr. and Bruno Ferrari Jr. both died decades ago. A message left for Bruno Ferrari III was returned by his wife. Asked if her husband gave Morlino $150,000, she said: “I can guarantee that he didn’t. If he did, he will be dead.”
Bruno Ferrari Sr.’s grandson Dick Ridilla said his mother had been close friends with Morlino. She died about two years ago. Ridilla did not have direct knowledge that his mother had given the pastor money, but he did not rule it out.
“It’s conceivable, if you knew my mother,” he said, describing her as a generous donor to church causes.
Maryland does not have a state gift tax. But if someone gave more than $15,000 directly to Morlino in 2018, he or she would generally be required to file an IRS Form 709 and pay any federal gift tax calculated.
Parish leaders at Saint Benedict were forgiving when asked about the pastor’s inconsistencies, noting that Morlino is 85 years old and that his strengths had always been his evangelism and charity, not his bookkeeping.
Charlene Sola, who volunteers in the church office, does not believe the money came from the church or The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City Inc.
“We don’t have that much money,” she said.
Morlino’s sudden departure over the weekend stunned the parish, which learned the news from a visiting priest who read a statement from the archdiocese at Mass. Church leaders acted after The Banner sought comment about the settlement. The monk was sent back to the Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Reached Tuesday by email, Morlino declined to comment.
Sola said she spoke to Morlino in Pennsylvania. She said it’s possible other people contributed to his settlement money, including relatives from his large, extended family, but that he wants to protect their identities.
“He doesn’t want to draw those people into this,” she said. “He has an extensive network of people that support him personally and would send him money from time to time if he needed something big.”
Unable to verify Morlino’s description of the settlement’s source, The Banner also reviewed tax and property records for The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City Inc., looking for evidence of a $200,000 gift or expense and found none. The nonprofit tax records, however, contained discrepancies.
The net assets the society reported at the end of 2019 are supposed to equal what the group reported at the start of 2020 — but they do not match. The fund balance recorded on the Society’s 2020 tax form is roughly $118,000 short.
Sola helps with the financial documents and said the society’s 2018, 2019 and 2020 tax forms inadvertently omitted maintenance and insurance expenses. She plans to amend the forms.
Founded in 1884, according to tax records, The Benedictine Society of Baltimore City Inc. is registered as a nonprofit, incorporated religious entity in Maryland. In recent years, the archabbot in Latrobe has served as president and Morlino as vice president.
State property records show the society has bought, sold or received as a gift more than two dozen houses and lots around the church since the 1990s. Most of these deals involved properties across from the church in the 2600 block of Saint Benedict Street or around the corner in the 400 block of Millington Avenue.
Morlino told The Banner he has spent more than a decade acquiring the area on behalf of the church with plans to build affordable housing for seniors. The block is almost all vacant lots today. A single, privately owned house remains.
Property records also show Morlino has individually owned a rowhouse on the 500 block of Millington Avenue for 23 years. The neighbor said she believes the house to be vacant.
The most recent transaction recorded was a sale by The Benedictine Society of a middle-of-the-block rowhouse on nearby Lehman Street for $20,000 in August 2019.
Parishioners said it was common for elderly members of Saint Benedict to leave their homes to the church.
In another instance, a parishioner left her assets to The Benedictine Society. In 2016, the nonprofit received a check for $157,000 from the late Anna Marie “Annie” Schleupner, records from her estate show. The gift was a windfall larger than the group’s net assets in recent years. Morlino served as Schleupner’s personal representative and oversaw the July 2016 transfer of her funds to the society, which he directs.
Morlino said he received permission from the archabbot to act as her representative.
“They had nobody else. They had no family,” he said.