SANIBEL — The priest of a Sanibel church is being investigated by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Diocese of Venice. He faces allegations of financially exploiting a churchgoer who was suffering from dementia.
The criminal investigation is focused on Father Christopher Senk of St. Isabel Catholic Church at the corner of Sanibel-Captiva and Rabbit roads.
A spokeswoman with the Diocese of Venice says sheriff’s deputies have been investigating Father Senk for nearly two years.
She says investigators believe Senk used his position of trust and influence to financially exploit the vulnerable parishioner.
They say he continued to do so even when the victim’s family asked him to stop.
The criminal investigation report was referred to the Florida State Attorney who decided not to press charges.
The Diocese of Venice released a statement of the situation and said that Father Senk is on paid administrative leave while the allegations are reviewed and they conduct their own investigation.
Documents show that Father Senk denies the allegations.
We spoke to Senk’s lawyer, David Deibel, who said that the administrative leave is necessary to protect the investigation but he says Senk is being treated unfairly.
“The fact that they have not contacted him and that the time of their release of this to the media is inherently suspect,” he said.
He called us Sunday to explain the relationship between Senk and the former parishioner believed to have been financially exploited.
Deibel said the woman was very generous to the church and to Senk by giving gifts that the father would sometimes refuse.
“The can be attested to by a number of people. None of whom — none of whom — were contacted by the state nor the diocese,” Deibel said.
Thoughts and feeling from parishioners:
The official statement was released Saturday afternoon – not long before mass at his church. Some parishioners at Saint Isabel left mass Saturday night hearing the news for the first time, and many of them were too upset to go on camera saying it’s a shame.
There were a few who spoke out in defense of the priest.
“You wonder what the root of the allegations are, where they came from, who they came from, and what the history is,” one person said.
“There’s no misunderstanding,” she said. “Father Senk is the best priest there ever was, and he’s the best priest this parish has ever had, and he’s the best priest in Florida.”
We did try reaching out to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office but have not heard back.
The Diocese of Venice in Florida said there is no timeline for when the internal investigation will be complete.
Reported by NBC-2 | STORY LINK