A Haverhill clergyman who is accused of defrauding his own church of more than £13,000 failed to declare payments for more than 140 funerals, a court has heard.
The Rev Ian Finn is charged with obtaining the money by not handing over fees he received for funerals and reading banns for weddings.
Finn, who is also the Rural Dean of Clare and an honorary canon at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, had been parish rector at St Mary the Virgin Church in Haverhill at the time of the alleged offence.
The 55-year-old of Hopton Rise, Haverhill has pleaded not guilty to fraud by abuse of his position between June 2007 and March 2014 involving a total of £13,237.
When confronted about alleged accounting irregularities at his church, Finn had put it down to his incompetence with figures and administration rather than dishonesty, the jury has heard.
During the trial being held this week at Ipswich Crown Court, Charles Myatt, prosecuting, said Finn had expressed ‘horror, bewilderment and embarrassment’ when the extent of what investigations had uncovered were revealed.
In a letter to the Diocesan Board of Finance Finn admitted having failed to give the administration of payments the amount of attention he should have done. Finn said in the letter: “I have worked hard to be professional and to keep high standards in many other aspects of my priesthood.”
The prosecution allege that Finn had told funeral directors to pay for services by cash or by cheques made out to him and which he then paid into his own bank account.
Mr Myatt told the jury that despite attending a training course at the need for all payments to be made directly to the parochial church council, Finn had insisted that his way was best.
Auditors were alerted by Finn’s curate Rev Manette Crossman and a new parish treasurer who spotted irregularities in quarterly returns required by the diocesan authorities showed that payments for 143 funerals and 65 reading of banns had never been declared over a seven-year period.
Finn had the day after a meeting to discuss the situation and produced a two-page list of at he believed were the payments he had not declared and arranged for £18,096 to be made. Earlier audits of returns made by churches in the diocese had been made ‘very much on trust’, said Mr Myatt.
He added: “It was considered that those involved in collecting fees would be beyond reproach.”
Giving evidence, Nicholas Edgell, chief executive officers of the Diocesan Board of Finance, told the court that while Finn had estimated the difference between what he collected and actually declared to be just over £18,000, the figure had been finally agreed at £13,237.
The jury heard that while Finn was paid a stipend, he was not entitled to additional payments for conducting funerals or reading banns in church, although he was allowed to reclaim out of pocket expenses.
The trial continues and is expected to last at least until the end of this week.