Garnerville - The former pastor of St. Gregory Barbarigo was charged Friday in the theft of more than $25,000 from the parish.
The Rev. Thomas Kreiser, 45, is charged with one count of third-degree grand larceny, a felony. He is accused of using the church's American Express card for personal expenses, including online gambling, Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said.
The thefts occurred from March to June 2010.
"This defendant, a Roman Catholic priest, embezzled thousands of dollars from St. Gregory's Church and improperly used the money for his personal benefit," Zugibe said in a statement. "His conduct represents a betrayal of the trust of his parishioners who looked to him for moral leadership and spiritual guidance."
If convicted, Kreiser could face up to seven years in state prison.
In June, Kreiser abruptly resigned from the pastorate for a variety of personal reasons, prompting the Archdiocese of New York to conduct an internal investigation into the parish's finances.
The archdiocesan audit concluded that Kreiser mismanaged parish funds, and the District Attorney's Office got involved.
In August, parishioners were notified of the incident through a church bulletin, which noted that the money had been returned, though the amount was not specified.
Zugibe confirmed that the money had been repaid.
The Rev. Joseph LaMorte, who arrived at the church in October to lead the parish as pastor, said Friday that parishioners have been eager to move forward while praying for Kreiser's recovery.
"Father has been seeking treatment, and we've been praying for him. So my message to the people would be to keep the prayers going. … One day, he may be able to return to the ministry," LaMorte said. "It's our hope that we could just have a new beginning now to move forward, while we maintain our concern and our prayer for father."
LaMorte said that in the six months since his arrival, he has witnessed the strength in the church community.
"St. Gregory is a wonderful parish. It's very resilient. It's very spiritual ," LaMorte said. "There's a great tradition here of worship, our school, the way we welcome people and the outreach to the poor. I found that in only six months being here."
The parish's finances, which were in serious condition following Kreiser's departure, have rebounded after several remedial measures.
LaMorte said that parishioners have responded well to recent fundraising efforts and that the parish is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Kreiser was parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Scarsdale from 2004 until he left for St. Gregory's in 2008.
The year after he got to the Scarsdale parish, the church had a deficit of more than $250,000 and was embroiled in controversy, as some parishioners were unhappy with the pastor, the Rev. Robert Verrigni. Verrigni eventually was transferred, but there was never any public suggestion that anyone had misappropriated funds.
Asked whether the investigation in the St. Gregory's case had prompted any inquiry involving Kreiser, a spokesman for the Westchester County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors there had gotten no complaints about Kreiser.
Kate Monaghan, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New York, said the archdiocese had been cooperating fully with the Rockland District Attorney's Office's investigation.
"As the case is ongoing, it would be premature for us to comment," Monaghan said in a statement Friday.
Kreiser's arrest resulted from an investigation by the Rockland County Special Investigation Unit.
Kreiser was arraigned in Haverstraw Town Court by Justice Peter Branti and was released without bail. He is due back in court May 12.