Priest Was Open about Relationship

By Donna Porstner and Angela Carella
Stamford Advocate [Darien CT]
July 16, 2006,0,4450669.

The Rev. Michael Jude Fay, who resigned as pastor from St. John Roman Catholic Church in May amid accusations he stole at least $200,000 from the parish, and wedding planner Cliff Martell appeared with other couples in the January-February issue of Philadelphia Style magazine -- dubbed the "sexiest issue ever" -- answering the question, "Where was your most romantic Philadelphia dining experience?"

Their response: "La Boheme because it's intimate with delicious food." Martell's arms are wrapped around Fay's shoulders in the photo, taken at a fundraiser for the Alliance for Philadelphia's Animals hosted by the magazine. Fay, who is not identified as a priest, is wearing a three-piece gray suit with a matching purple necktie and pocket square. Martell is wearing a black suit with French cuff sleeves and cufflinks.

The same issue features an advertisement, purchased with a church credit card, for Martell's wedding-planning business.

Fay, 55, and Martell, 54, who also goes by the last name Fantini, own a luxury condominium together near the ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and use the same address on Manhattan's East 63rd Street.

The two also vacation together. During a cruise in February 2005, the men requested a cabin with a Queen-size bed instead of two twin beds. Both listed their occupation as "director" on the cruise lines' registration form.

A private investigator hired by the church bookkeeper and another parish priest reported in May that Fay spent at least $200,000 on dinners at upscale restaurants, clothing, luggage, jewelry, limousine rides and other luxuries. Many of the purchases were made in New York City, Philadelphia and Florida.

Some parishioners said they knew Fay was spending considerable time away from the parish but believed it was because he was battling prostate cancer.

Former church secretary Ellen Patafio, who worked at St. John's until February, said Martell was often at the rectory.

Fay "took a lot of vacation, but when he was there, Cliff was there a lot," Patafio said.

The office was "turned upside down" when Martell was there, she said.

"He felt we worked for him as well," she said. "If you were in the middle of a conversation on the phone, he'd come in to the office and interrupt you to say, 'I need tape, I need that.' He'd tell us to get up from the computer so he could use it. He had no regard for us conducting business in the rectory."

Martell "did the holiday decorations for the church," e-mailing the staff to say what he wanted ordered, including an artificial Christmas tree from the Frontgate catalog for the rectory, Patafio said.

She said she felt uncomfortable when Martell was there.

"He and (Fay) would sit down and start telling their stories. It was inappropriate," Patafio said.

Fay and Martell often had friends at the rectory, she said.

"They would have parties, mostly on weekends," Patafio said.

Frank Colandro, who owns Mama Carmela's delicatessen across from the church on the Post Road, said he thought it was suspicious when he first saw Martell walking a dog near the church's grounds.

"I asked the people who worked there when I first saw this guy last year," he said. "They said it's his boyfriend."

Colandro said it made him sick to see a priest openly conducting a romantic relationship.

"You're slapping the parishioners in the face when you do that, when you're flaunting your boyfriend around," he said.

Colandro said he would see Martell for several days in a row, then he would be gone.

Bridgeport Diocese Bishop William Lori has acknowledged financial problems at St. John's under Fay's watch. Lori has said Fay's behavior was not suitable for the priesthood but has not mentioned Martell by name.

"The bishop had met with Father Fay many times in his time as pastor but was not aware of his apparent relationship," diocesan spokesman Joseph McAleer said Friday.

McAleer said Lori asked for Fay's resignation as soon as he learned of his relationship with Martell and the financial problems at St. John's.

McAleer said he has not seen the Philadelphia Style magazine photo.

On May 21, the Sunday after Fay's resignation, Lori attended the 10 a.m. Mass at St. John's to apologize to parishioners. During the homily, Lori told parishioners a "considerable portion" of their offerings had been used to fund a lifestyle that no follower of Christ, particularly a priest, should lead.

"The priesthood is a higher calling, so a priest is required, at a minimum, to lead a moral life and follow the teachings of the church," McAleer said Friday. "Clearly, that wasn't the case with Father Fay."

Fay could not be reached for comment. The diocese does not know his whereabouts and communicates with him through an attorney, McAleer said.

Though Fay is not working as a priest in the diocese, McAleer said he receives a "modest stipend" from the diocese for living expenses.

Telephone messages left for Martell and Fay's sister, Kathleen, were not returned.

Patafio said she and other church employees did not report Fay's relationship with Martell to the diocese because "then the diocese would call (Fay) and (Fay) would come down on us."

She said Fay "was not a nice person in those situations. He probably would have gotten rid of anybody who tried to make waves. Cliff was his life; he would do anything for Cliff."

Leo Moscato, who was Fay's personal chef at St. John's in the early 1990s and catered private parties in the rectory for many years, said he met Martell several times and never got the impression they were romantically linked.

Moscato said nothing inappropriate occurred at the rectory parties, as others have alleged.

"They were good, clean parties with a lot of damn good food and some good wine," he said.

Fay would always have classical musicians perform, he said.

"He . . . wasn't hiding anything," Moscato said. "There were parishioners there. I think they are trying to make this very sensationalized with the gay lover, which I don't even think is true."

Moscato declined to discuss the parties Fay threw at a home he owned in New Fairfield for 13 years near Candlewood Lake. Fay sold the cabin-style home in July 2004 for $315,000 and soon after bought the condo in Florida with Martell.

Moscato said St. John's needed Fay because he was a "great fundraiser" and brought in a lot of money for the parish and the diocese.

Fay improved the parish with his good taste and flair for decorating, Moscato said. The parish was a "dump" before Fay arrived, he said.

Moscato said he never thought anything of Fay's tastes, saying he has cooked for several priests in the Bridgeport Diocese and they all want nothing but the best.

"Go audit every priest in the diocese," Moscato said. "You'd be shocked where they eat."


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