Bishop Jones saddened by Fitzmaurice’s sentencing

Christchurch’s Catholic Bishop, Barry Jones, says everyone who has been involved in the fraud committed by John Fitzmaurice have been extremely saddened.

Bishop Jones expressed “disappointment” that his once-trusted priest had been jailed, having pleaded to the court for him to receive home detention.

He was also saddened to lose the services of “a very able and gifted” priest.

“His offending has caused great scandal – he had a very high reputation amongst people and people were very shocked to hear this had happened.”

“But he’s exercised an excellent ministry for over 30 years, and now we don’t have that from him anymore.”

The church will continue to support him through his “turmoil”, and after counselling, he expected Father Fitzmaurice to come out of prison “stronger”.

They had paid his living costs, covered his legal fees and counselling costs, and since the convicted fraudster had no assets or any savings were realistic that he couldn’t pay any reparation.

But Bishop Jones said: “Some kind of symbolic reparation when he’s in a position to do so… we’d expect that.”

Crown prosecutor Marcus Zintl said it had cost the church $31,000 in investigation fees to uncover Fitzmaurice’s offending. Reparation of $149,000 was sought but the church was realistic in acknowledging Fitzmaurice’s inability to pay.

Zintl said the offending involved 735 separate acts of dishonesty. It was highly calculated and premeditated offending.

“The offender was a man of faith, but the very faith that was placed in him by the Catholic church and the community, he has betrayed.”

Defence counsel Jonathan Eaton told the judge: “He stands before you for sentencing truly ashamed and deeply remorseful for the harm he has caused.”

Eaton said Fitzmaurice was aware of the breach of trust towards the bishop, the church, parishioners, family, and friends.

He said said a report described the offending as “a spiralling vocational and emotional meltdown over several years”.

He said Fitzmaurice, who had entered the seminary at 17 and became a priest at 23, could still work for the church he had devoted his life to.

While he could never work in Christchurch again, Eaton said an “olive branch” had been extended by the Bishop of Auckland.

Eaton also indicated they would be challenging the sentence and applying for Father Fitzmaurice’s release on bail pending the hearing of an appeal.


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