The Catholic priest who stole £50,000 of church funds has resigned after ‘falling in love’ with his housekeeper.
Father John Reid, 69, urged his parishioners to ‘love one another’ and apologised for the ‘distress and unrest’ he had caused with his crimes.
The priest of 46 years was given a suspended 18-month jail term for fraud after he bought four houses for Gillian Leddy, 55, and her two grown-up daughters.
A court heard they lived ‘as a family’ in the presbytery at St Cuthbert’s church in Chester-le-Street, Co Durham.
In an Easter farewell to worshippers, Father Reid wrote: “I wish to express my sincere apologies for the all the distress and unrest my actions have caused. I accept full responsibility for the way the finances of the Parishes were used. Sorry.
“St Paul in 1 Corinthians 1 Verse 10 asks that there be no divisions among us. This is the time to move on, draw a line and come together as the body of Christ in this area.
“Please love one another as the Good Lord has asked. Thank you for all those who prayed for me, had Masses said, those who wrote letters and sent cards.
“They were a great comfort to me. May God bless you all.”
Significantly, it was signed John C L Reid, not Father Reid, suggesting he may not return to duties as a priest.
The message stood alongside a statement which had been read at the emergency meeting in the parish last week.
Kathleen Smith, the Diocesan Chief Operating Officer, wrote: “I think it is very important that Judge Prince, while sentencing Fr John, actually said: ‘Those charged with financial responsibility cannot turn a blind eye to the behaviour of a priest.
“There can be no criticism of the people who reported this.”
Reid told the Mirror he had sent the letter to be read out at the emergency parish meeting which followed his conviction. He added: “Being a priest is a lifetime commitment, and I am (still) a priest. My future now is in the hands of the Bishop.
“I have written to the parish and that letter was read in a public meeting.”
When asked if he had endured a ‘crisis of faith’, he added: “I would prefer not to say, thank you. Anything on my future must go through the Diocese.”
Now living in Stockton-on-Tees, he declined to go into detail about his relationship with Ms Leddy. After the case, her daughter Veronica, 30, described her mother as ‘good friends’ with the priest.
The Catholic church has confirmed his future lies in the hands of the Bishop of Newcastle.
Prosecutor Jane Waugh said Reid ‘declared that he was in love with Gillian Leddy’ and that she and her daughters Veronica and Alice, 28, were the ‘family that he never had’.
After admitting fraud at Durham Crown Court he was given an 18-month jail term, suspended for two years, and made to pay back £50,000.
The diocesan spokesman said he had not seen Father Reid’s letter. He added: “He withdrew from public ministry during the course of the investigations, and this has remained in place.”