Priest admits stealing cash from church

A respected Roman Catholic priest betrayed the trust of his parishioners by stealing almost £100,000 of money left to his Suffolk church in a will.

A RESPECTED Roman Catholic priest betrayed the trust of his parishioners by stealing almost £100,000 of money left to his church in a will.

Father Eric Woodhead, who met Pope John Paul II earlier in his career, admitted taking the money when he appeared before a court on Friday .

The 60-year-old, who was the minister at Our Lady Star of the Sea church in Lowestoft, now faces the prospect of his long career lying in ruins after he pleaded guilty to stealing £91,963 from the church.

Smartly-dressed Woodhead appeared at Ipswich Crown Court to face one charge of theft between March 21, 2006, and December 23, 2006, from Our Lady Star of the Sea Church.

He gave his address as Upgate, Poringland - the same address as the bishop's house and diocesan offices - and said nothing in court apart from his guilty plea.

Few details were given in court, and church officials were reluctant to say much about the case yesterday after it was adjourned for a further hearing.

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Monsignor Tony Rogers, from the Catholic diocese of East Anglia, said: “As Father Eric Woodhead is awaiting sentence, I am sure you would understand that it would be inappropriate to make any comment on the case at this stage, other than to say that the diocese of East Anglia placed this matter in the hands of the police last November and has co-operated with their subsequent investigation. The Bishop of East Anglia will make a statement once sentence has been given.”

Woodhead was ordained in July 1979 and met the then Pope in 1983 at a friend's ordination in Rome at the Vatican City. He attended a mass at the Pope's private chapel. In 2005 he told the Lowestoft Journal: “It was a great honour. Though he was shorter than you would think, he had a real presence and when we met he gave me a rosary.”

Our Lady Star of the Sea church is the main Catholic church in Lowestoft, where Father Woodhead had performed countless masses, weddings and requiem masses as well as ministering at Blundeston prison and local hospitals.

Also accused with Woodhead was Christopher Myhill, 28, of Queen's Road, Yarmouth. He pleaded not guilty to three charges: an identical charge to Woodhead of stealing £91,963 from Our Lady Star of the Sea Church between March and December 2006, one of stealing £436.47 from the church between December 20 and December 24 2006, and one of stealing £15,600 from the church between January 25 2006 and February 1 2007. He denies all the charges and is set to stand trial on June 23.

Woodhead, who was released on bail, is due to be sentenced after Myhill's trial. The probation service has been asked to carry out a pre-sentence report.

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