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DELAWARE: Priest gets 3 years behind bars for theft

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Rev. Cornelius Breslin, a Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to felony theft after being charged with embezzling more than $350,000 from two parishes, was sentenced to three years behind bars, seven more suspendedA Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to felony theft after being charged with embezzling more than $350,000 from two parishes of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington was sentenced Friday to three years behind bars.

New Castle County Superior Court Judge Fred Silverman sentenced the Rev. Cornelius Breslin to 10 years in prison, but he suspended all but three years. After that, Breslin must serve probation.

Silverman's punishment went beyond the state's sentencing guidelines, which called for up to one year in prison. But he nevertheless described the court's judgment as trivial "compared to the judgment the defendant will face in another court at another time."

"The defendant may or may not have faith in that day coming, but I suspect his victims will rest comfortably thinking sooner or later Mr. Breslin will face the justice he truly deserves," said Silverman, who ordered Breslin to have no contact with St. Patrick and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parishes, from which he stole the money.

Breslin, 60, pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of felony theft over $100,000. Prosecutors agreed to drop a second theft count and two counts of falsifying business records. He was indicted in February after diocesan officials reported suspicious financial activity to the attorney general's office.

Investigators found that Breslin gave much of the money to a man who told authorities he had a sexual relationship with the priest. Breslin on Friday denied having a sexual relationship with Anthony Capodanno, who attended a church where Breslin worked before becoming pastor of St. Patrick and St. Mary.

"There was no immoral or sexual relationship with him or anyone else," said Breslin.

"I understand why he would have implied that," Breslin added, without explanation.

Deputy attorney general Kevin Carroll said Breslin betrayed the trust of his parishioners and misused his authority. He asked that Silverman sentence him to at least five years behind bars.

"He was the head of the parishes. He was the shepherd," said Carroll, noting that the diocese's chief financial officer concluded that Breslin's theft of $225,000 from St. Mary "seriously jeopardized its long-term survival," and that St. Patrick had suffered "a significant financial blow."

Carroll also noted that after being arrested, Breslin tried to justify his actions, saying there were "degrees of right and wrong."

"I knew I was bending things, but not morally," Breslin wrote in a document read by Carroll.

Breslin also wrote that he was shocked by the amount he had misappropriated, and that no one probably would have noticed the money missing if he had kept the amount under $10,000.

Carroll said Breslin gave money on a regular basis to Capodanno, with whom he wanted "more than just a relationship."

Defense attorney Ferris Wharton noted that Breslin did not keep any of the money for himself and said he gave the money to Capodanno as "an act of charity."

Wharton asked the judge for leniency, noting that Breslin was the sole caretaker for his 84-year-old mother, and that he needed to work in order to pay restitution.

"His future with the church is uncertain right now," Wharton said.

Breslin told the judge that he regretted what he did, and suggested that he was taken advantage of by Capodanno.

Parishioners of the two churches said they were satisfied with the sentence.

"I expected that he was going to get probation, to tell you the truth," said Tom Moore, 88, a member of St. Patrick parish.

Theresa Boyle, who is a Eucharistic minister and a member of the parish council at St. Patrick, recalled wryly how Breslin regularly told parishioners from the pulpit that he was "not worthy to be your priest."

"We thought it was spiritual," explained Boyle's husband, John, who said people felt "very heavily betrayed."