A church divided: Chase the Ace hysteria in Bay de Verde replaced by controversy

The hysteria that came with a hugely successful fundraiser in the community of Bay de Verde last year has been replaced with controversy, anger and division.

Anger over where money is being spent, how contracts awarded

A 'storm of controversy' is brewing in Bay de Verde, sources say, over the way money from a hugely successful Chase the Ace fundraiser is being spent. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The hysteria that came with a hugely successful fundraiser in the Conception Bay community of Bay de Verde last year has been replaced with suspicion, anger and division.

Sources are telling CBC News that a "storm of controversy" is brewing within the Roman Catholic Parish of the Assumption, which hosted a Chase the Ace fundraiser that went on for months and attracted thousands of people to the town of less than 400 each week.

Some longtime parishioners have left the church, members of the choir walked out during a service recently, and there's now a tense relationship with the parish priest, Rev. Thomas Offong

"It's not good," said one churchgoer, who asked not to be named. 

Offong refused to do an interview when contacted Monday.

Event drew national attention

A jackpot of more than $730,000 was awarded in September after the elusive ace of spades was drawn, ending a fundraiser that had captured the attention of the province, and made headlines throughout Canada.

The event started as a way to raise money for some minor renovations, but grew beyond anyone's expectations.

A financial statement obtained by CBC News shows the total income for the parish in 2016 was just under $2.5 million, with much of that attributed to Chase the Ace.

A section called "fundraising costs" was pegged at more than $1.2 million.

The weekly crowds in Bay de Verde last September reached into the thousands as people flocked to the community in hopes of drawing the elusive ace of spades. (Kristinn Skulason/Facebook)

The money is being spent on three projects in the parish, including renovations to the church, the parish hall and a parish house.

"The church has been up in slings since Christmas," said another member of the congregation.

Anger erupted recently when it became known that $100,000 was donated to a neighbouring Catholic parish in Northern Bay, sources said.

Offong serves both parishes, but resides in Northern Bay.

"The people in Bay de Verde didn't want that," one person said.

"That money was raised for Bay de Verde. Not to be given away to Northern Bay," said another churchgoer.

There's also suspicion about the way contracts were awarded, with one source saying that multiple bids were not always solicited.

One person said some have returned their box of weekly donation envelopes — empty.

Calls to the parish office in Bay de Verde on Monday morning were not returned.

The parish is part of the Diocese of Grand Falls, but an official at the diocese directed calls to the parish office in Bay de Verde.

About the Author

Terry Roberts

CBC News

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.