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The revered priest of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Forest Hills was reportedly flown out of the country just before he became the subject of an investigation as to why $2 million in church funds was missing.
The New York Post reported Tuesday that Monsignor Thomas Gradilone, the 74-year-old former pastor at the Queens Boulevard church, was flown to a Catholic retreat center in Canada shortly before Bishop Thomas Daily of the Brooklyn and Queens Diocese told churchgoers on Oct. 1 that their former pastor was suspected of diverting millions from church coffers.
The diocese did not tell investigators from the district attorney's office that they were sending Gradilone out of the country when it reported the missing funds and said it would cooperate with the investigation, the Post said.
"If this was meant to circumvent the arm of the law, the bishop would not have said we will continue to cooperate with all civil authorities when asked," diocese spokesman Frank DeRosa told the Post. "If they want to speak with the monsignor, all they have to do is come and talk to the bishop."
The Post also reported that investigators had not found any evidence of criminality on the part of the priest, but were focusing instead on a friend, Frank Vivona, a convicted robber whom Gradilone befriended and hired off the books.
Daily told churchgoers at five services earlier this month that Gradilone was voluntarily moved from his home in Queens into seclusion at a "facility" outside the diocese "to allow him to reflect deeply on these events that have disrupted his life and the lives of others."
He said the former pastor, who retired in 1998 after serving at the large and wealthy Roman Catholic church for 18 years, became the subject of an official investigation when auditors for the diocese found approximately $2 million missing, apparently diverted from church collections and other funds over several years.
No charges had been filed against Gradilone as of press time Tuesday.
Members of the nearly 3,000-family congregation have described Gradilone as a generous and kindhearted man who never turned needy people away.
Reach reporter Michelle Han by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138