Trouble continues at Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Astoria with calls for the ouster of the priest following the discovery of what the diocese describes as "financial irregularities."
More details are beginning to emerge about the conduct of Father Ted Prentice as the congregation splits into factions for and against his continued tenure in the Astoria and Hammond parishes.
One critic condemns his "foul language" and "fits of anger" at the same time supporters commend his efforts to unify the congregation and blast The Daily Astorian for negative reporting.
And there is the question of Prentice's former fiancée, Antonia Valdes. If she is not really a nun, why is she known as "sister"?
Questions remain over the way the priest has handled church and school funds. At least $25,000 is unaccounted for.
The Portland Archdiocese has acknowledged financial irregularities and curtailed Prentice's financial authority. And Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis has asked the Astoria Police Department to investigate alleged financial improprieties.
Cindy Howe, whose daughter attends Star of the Sea School, said she will file criminal charges against Prentice if the Portland Archdiocese does not remove him.
"It's a shock," said Dr. Terry Campbell, the school's principal, who learned of the financial problems just last week. "I want us to be able to continue beyond the errors of an individual. I want what led up to this to be fixed. I don't want this to happen again."
But he said the 113-year-old school is strong and its doors will stay open.
Meanwhile, in an e-mail to Star of the Sea Middle School parents, Howe and Walt Postlewait call for parents to insist that the archdiocese remove Prentice. Besides accusing Prentice of stealing funds from the parish and the school, the two express concerns in the letter about Prentice's behavior.
Howe said she has personally witnessed the priest on many occasions "using foul language, having fits of anger" and behaving in ways she considers to be "mentally disturbed." Last week, Howe said, Prentice had a loud argument with the parish's bookkeeper, Monica Steele, who was so frightened at what he might do "in a fit of rage" that she went home.
"I hope and pray that (Prentice) will get the help that he needs but not at the expense of the safety and security of our children," Howe wrote in the letter to parents. She and Postlewait are appealing to other parents to send e-mails to Campbell, the principal, complaining about Prentice, as a way to pressure the archdiocese into removing the priest until all the facts are established.
Prentice, 45, took over as priest of Star of the Sea and its satellite parish in Hammond four years ago. It is the first priestate for the former mechanical engineer, who was ordained in 2004.
In response to an increasing volume of complaints by parents of students at the school and other parishioners, a review was conducted recently by the Portland Archdiocese. The review uncovered "significant irregularities" in the way Prentice has been handling finances for the parish and the school, wrote Fr. Dave Gutmann, priest of Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, in a letter dated Jan. 26.
"Many archdiocesan policies were not followed in financial transactions, and there were funds that were inappropriately used for Fr. Ted's personal charities," Gutmann wrote. However, the funds "were not used for (Prentice's) personal use or gain," but instead the money went help people Prentice knows personally who were in need, Gutmann wrote.
And, he continued, the archdiocese has put new oversight in place to make sure parish funds "are being used only for legitimate and known causes" and Prentice is "currently making arrangements to repay all parish funds spent on his personal charities."
One of those personal charities is the nonprofit corporation Nuestro Futuro Inc., formed Feb. 24, 2003 with Theodore R. Prentice as its registered agent and Antonia Valdes as its president. (The name means "our future.") Its principal place of business is the address of a house in Portland owned by Prentice's parents. Valdes, who apparently is not actually a nun, calls herself Sister Antonia and has taught Sunday School at Star of the Sea. Before Prentice decided to enter the priesthood, he and Valdes had been engaged to be married. Prentice characterizes her as a "consecrated virgin."
Although Prentice has come under fire for financial irregularities, many church members have expressed their support for him. In an e-mail, Mike Covert, a member of the school advisory council, said, "While Fr. Ted Prentice's actions have hurt our community, the real damage is in the division within our Catholic faith ... Fr. Prentice's actions are being dealt with internally by our church and through the Archdiocese and he deserves to receive due process."
Covert also criticized The Daily Astorian's coverage, saying Monday's story was "filled with baseless facts and misrepresentation."
Reynaldo Goicochea also criticized the story in an e-mail, calling it biased. He said Prentice is an upstanding priest who has worked tirelessly during his tenure. "His attempt to unify our church is not only brave, but also very commendable," he wrote.