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God's Drunkest Disciples

“Let Go and Let God” may be a well-worn AA adage, but even clergymen with high-heavenly connections can't avoid straying wildly off the path to sobriety. The Fix spotlights ten top religious leaders and their spectacular falls from grace.

 

  • Father Josip Stefancic

    This combustible Catholic priest—known to locals as “the Sheriff”—demonstrated a sketchy grasp of his church’s fifth commandment when he went on a booze-fueled rampage in the Croatian town of Slunj one Saturday night in 2004. Out celebrating the feast of St. Martin—patron saint of soldiers—at a restaurant, the sloshed "Sheriff" quarreled with a fellow diner he felt had insulted his mother, punching him in the face and cutting his eye. Seizing his hunting rifle, he then threatened other guests, before escaping in his car—and crashing into a tree. Police pressed several charges.  

    Remembering that to forgive is divine, however, Stefancic, then 35, promptly forgave himself, philosophizing: “I admit that I made a mistake. However, everyone makes mistakes, politicians and even the Pope.” He also claimed his drink had been spiked. His bishop, Mile Bogovic, was equally inclined toward mercy: “Stefancic did not act alone. The wine was with him,” he surmised. Just don’t let him near the Holy Spirit.

     

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  • The Reverend Ignatius Kury

    This 35 year-old minister of the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio, may have been picked up by the police for driving his car off the road and blowing a .203 on the breathalyzer earlier this year. But he still didn’t forget his calling, preaching to his captors when he was handcuffed to his cell wall: “Christ on the cross, you got these shackles on me… I’ll give you the sermon on the mount—your sermon on the mount is this: get these fucking bars off me ‘cuz I’m getting a rash!”

    But his activities that night were observed by more than just those in the vicinity. Kury had exposed himself when he was first introduced to the cell, and so evidence-gathering officers filmed every minute of a drunken rant that encompassed Oprah Winfrey’s “fat ass,” Sarah Palin, Bolsheviks and an offer of oral sex in exchange for his freedom. The video went viral. “He’s an extremely intoxicated priest,” deadpanned his lawyer, assuring viewers that his client was planning to enter a clerical rehab in Maryland, after taking a “leave of absence” from his flock.

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  • Socun Chan Rern

    Refraining from taking intoxicants is among the precepts of Buddhism, but be careful who you mention it to. This January, Socun Chan Rern, a 27-year-old Cambodian monk, invited himself to join layman Chhoun Pich and his two friends, as they drank together in the Krakor district of Pursat province. Five liters of palm wine into it, Chhoun Pich made the mistake of asking his new Buddhist boozing buddy if he was afraid that he was sinning by drinking alcohol.

    Intoxicated and incensed, Socun Chan Rern returned to his pagoda and picked up various items of weaponry, before allegedly going to Chhoun Pich’s house and attempting to hit him with an axe. Pursat police chief Mo Lyda said the monk was arrested later that night while carrying a terrifying arsenal of two baseball bats plus the aforementioned chopper. Rern has since been defrocked and charged with intentional violence. “He is a monk,” said Mo Lyda, “but he drank wine as a layman. It is wrong in the Buddhist religion and he also got in a fight with someone.”

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  • Sister Lauren M. Hanley

    Gin may bear the nickname “Mother’s Ruin,” but it didn’t do much for this twisted Sister’s reputation either. The then 68-year-old Director of Spiritual Development at St. Frances de Chantal Church in Wantagh, Long Island, started drinking at 3 p.m. one afternoon in September 2009. Three hours—and half a bottle—later, she embarked on a wild joyride through the town in a church-owned Toyota Corolla, bumping into parked cars, careening over residential lawns and near-massacring children who were playing outside the church. An abrupt meeting with a tree put an end to the fun.

    Cops got her checked out at a nearby medical center before hauling her to a lockup for confession. Hanley was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated, among other offences. The Sisters of St. Joseph’s, the order she had belonged to for 47 years, declared their “deep gratitude to God that no one was injured.” But for 11 year-old Alex Stein, who fled for his life as the nun bore down on him, the event perhaps represented a loss of faith: “It was frightening at first, then you realize you can’t trust anybody.”

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  • Rabbi Baruch Chalomish

    In a manner that would put most rock stars to shame, this millionaire Torah teacher-cum-property speculator in Manchester, England, developed a secret diet of drugs and prostitutes following the death of his wife in 1996, while outwardly remaining a pillar of his community. But in January 2009, after nine straight days of private partying—three without sleep—at a luxury apartment rented for the purpose, Chalomish’s pimp, Nasir Abbas, became so concerned for the rabbi’s health that he sent a text to escort agency Pure Class, cancelling that day’s supply of girls.

    Raiding cops arrested Chalomish, then 55, and Abbas along with 100 grams of cocaine, worth around 6,700 pounds. Chalomish was charged with drug dealing in the form of trading cocaine for sexual services. His defense lawyer claimed his client hoarded pure cocaine to evade the dangerous mixing agents, such as rat poison, used by “unscrupulous dealers.” In the end, the rampant Rabbi was cleared of drug dealing but copped to possession, receiving a community service penalty. “He now hopes,” said his lawyer, “the shame and degradation he suffered will serve as an example to others to shun drugs.”

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  • Bishop Tom Butler

    If, as the biblical book of Timothy has it, “A bishop must be above reproach… temperate, sober-minded, orderly,” then the Church of England’s Bishop of Southwark, Dr. Tom Butler, then 66, had a night to forget in December 2006. In fact, he did forget it—entirely—after leaving a reception at the Irish Embassy, near Buckingham Palace. Waking the next day with a black eye—and lacking personal items such as his briefcase, mobile phone and crucifix—he claimed at a packed church ceremony that he had “apparently been mugged,” and so his bruised head prevented him from wearing his miter.

    But witnesses with slightly clearer memories reported that the “steaming drunk” bishop had staggered down the street the night before and climbed into the back of a stranger’s parked Mercedes, tossing out the baby toys that were lying there and refusing to leave. When challenged, he splendidly retorted, “I am the Bishop of Southwark. It’s what I do.” He sustained minor injuries as he was hauled out. Butler faced loud calls to quit in the days that followed, with peeved parishioners pointing out the “zero tolerance” policy he always applied to drunken clergy under his command. But the binging bishop clung to his miter until his retirement in 2010.

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  • Imam Ismet Graca

    An Imam in the village of Sijenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 21-year-old Ismet Graca didn’t wait long to branch out into a rather more lucrative line of business: drug trafficking. He was one of six people arrested in March 2009 as police swooped in on a 120,000 Euro haul of 2.5 kilograms of heroin and significant quantities of speed, cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy. The Moslem miscreant was found guilty of participating in organized crime, as well as the import and export of heroin. Happily for Graca, rather than facing a Saudi-style interpretation of Sharia law, he was instead slapped with an 18-month jail sentence.

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  • The Reverend Curtis White III

    This minister of the Divine Faith Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was apparently offering something stronger than communion wine. Tip-offs from the congregation led to police raiding the then 59-year-old pastor’s motel room in June 2009, where he was caught with 6.6 grams of crack in the room and another 6.5 grams “secreted in a body cavity.” White, described as a “radio personality,” who had hosted local show Gospel Train Unity Inspirational Hour—but who also had previous convictions for dealing cocaine dating from the 1990s—was sentenced to almost 16 years in federal prison for possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute.

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  • Baba Harnek Singh Grewal

    Based in Edmonton, Canada, this septuagenarian Sikh heads a $100 million-rated faction of the Nanaksar sect, which has congregations in Canada, the United States, the U.K. and India—and is known for its strict ban on alcohol. Yet “The Prince,” as he is known to his followers, was found slumped over the wheel of his vehicle by an Alberta policeman in November 2000 and blew a limit-doubling .16 on the breathalyzer. Despite his courtroom claim to be a simple laborer, word of his conviction, fine and ban seeped out, and members of his community came forward with tales of booze-sodden parties on temple grounds, free love, gambling with temple money and misappropriated donations.

    A Sikh schism saw dissidents fail in an attempt to oust Grewal as leader of their organization in the British Columbia courts. But the Sant Samaj body of Sikh holy men back in Punjab excommunicated the hard-partying “Prince” and a Punjab court charged him in his absence with inciting a riot against religious rivals in which a man was killed.

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  • "Bishop" Anthony Garduno

    Originally a Catholic priest, Anthony Garduno was defrocked in the late 1990s, following allegations of “inappropriate sexual contact with a male parishioner” who—improbably enough—was taking a marriage-preparation class at the time. Undeterred, Garduno bounced back to become a “self-described bishop” at Our Lady of Tepeyak, an “offshoot of the Catholic church” in Home Gardens, California.

    He seemed to be an entirely innocent victim when he was shot several times in the course of an attempted robbery at his church—which was also his home—in September, 2009. But a police investigation later uncovered a possible motive for the botched heist when they found a stash of methamphetamine that the pastor had been dealing—not to mention a stolen pistol, a quantity of “ date rape” drug G.H.B. and “evidence of possible sexual crimes against children.” The minister was sentenced to two years in state prison for possession of controlled substances, possession of methamphetamine for sale, and receiving stolen property.

     

    Will Godfrey is Managing Editor of The Fix. He comes from London, lives in Brooklyn and recently interviewed Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern about his junkie past.

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By Will Godfrey 04/11/11

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