Rezori | A fraud, a priest and a wife's tale of woe

When Catherine Dinn forged her husband's name on cheques at Rev. John Dinn's Anglican church, she set the wheels in motion for a tale of misery that divided a community, writes Azzo Rezori.
Catherine Dinn covers her face while at provincial court on Friday, when she and her husband, John Dinn, were sentenced. (CBC)

Where does misery begin. Where does it end?

In the lives of some people it follows them around like a shadow, always and everywhere, even in the dark where they think they're safe.

"Where does one start?" asked Catherine Dinn in her statement to the court charged with sentencing her for her part in defrauding the Anglican parish of St. John the Evangelist in Topsail of money collected for missionary work, including support for orphans in Uganda.

More than $9,000 went missing between July and November of 2012. Catherine and her husband John Dinn, the parish's former priest, pleaded guilty to stealing it.

The Dinns were sentenced on Friday. He got two months house arrest, she a conditional discharge recognizing that he is out of a job and she is now the only breadwinner in their family of four.

'Many paths to this sad ending'

Not once in her statement did Catherine Dinn take responsibility for what she did. Instead, she presented herself as a victim of life-long misery. 

John Dinn is not currently allowed to work as a priest in the Anglican diocese. (CBC)

"Looking back at my life from this end, there are many paths that have led me to this sad ending," she wrote.

That ending involved not just the Dinns. It cast a lasting chill over the entire parish.

Former treasurer Ken Carter speaks of having his spiritual beliefs challenged. Parish secretary Madonna Scott says she suffers from symptoms eerily reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by a betrayal against which she simply had no defences.  

"I used to enjoy my job," she wrote in a victim impact statement. "Now I often question why I'm still here."

Lisa Cox, the parish's people's warden at the time the theft was discovered in late 2012, talks about the shock, anger, and hurt by many parishioners from having been so deceived by their own priest.

Mother, first husband blamed in statement

John Dinn's story is not on record. But in her statement, Catherine explores only her own descent into crime.

"I could say it began with a mother from hell," she recalls. A mother, she says, who loathed her and poisoned her relationship with her two brothers.

Pressure added … the drug use continued … menopause set in, and I lost my mind.- Catherine Dinn

She moved to Halifax to train as a dental hygienist but missed the opportunity to set herself free. "Returning to my parents' home was the worst thing I ever did, and as a result I married to get away from hell and entered a worse hell than before."

"He was abusive to me," she said of that first husband. "I wanted out. But everyone said, 'Say, wait it out.'"

While waiting out her misery, she ended up with serious whiplash, the result of a car accident. "My life on pain killers began."

She eventually left her first husband, moved into her own apartment with two children, tried to make a go of it as a single mother on a dwindling income due to her injury and increasing dependency on drugs. 

Ken Carter told the court how the financial scandal affected the Anglican community in Topsal. (CBC)

Then she met John Dinn and married him, "a quick-tempered Irish man with a good heart and a hard-working minister in the Anglican church."

Those qualities were recognized by others. 

"John helped me grow my spiritual life," recalls Ken Carter, who considered the priest not just a mentor but a friend with whom he shared "many spiritual and personal conversations."

"I held him in high esteem and trusted his decisions were in the best interest of his entire congregation."

Things did not always go that well, however, with John and Catherine. Her health continued to deteriorate to the point where she could work only one morning a week. 

'I lost my mind' 

"I became useless," she wrote in her statement to the court. There was growing friction over the custody of Catherine's children with, according to her, their dead-beat father. The cost of the children's education at St. Bon's private school was $7,000 each, a year.

"Pressure added … the drug use continued … menopause set in, and I lost my mind."

"I made some bad decisions ... the most serious was the altering of three cheques and making them payable to John. The cheques were on the secretary's desk. I whited out the name, and I put John's name, and deposited them in the bank account to pay for my children's school."

More people than just the Dinns came under scrutiny following the discovery of the missing money. Madonna Scott, on whose desk the cheques were altered, got her share of probing looks and questions. So did Ken Carter, who knew of the scandal before the rest of the parish but sat on it for some time so as not to spoil everybody's Christmas that year.

The whole parish went into a tailspin. "We feel our faith has been tampered with," Lisa Cox wrote in her victim impact statement. "We felt manipulated. Our hearts were broken."

Some parishioners left the congregation and never came back. Others are struggling with the hurt and betrayal to this day, "still working through faith issues."

Meeting again, but in court

About 10 of them were already seated in the courtroom when John and Catherine Dinn arrived for their sentencing. John entered first with a furtive gesture of acknowledgement to his former parishioners. 

Catherine, who had hidden her face at every one of her previous court appearances, was hiding it again, behind her long black hair and her right hand holding it in place. 

They sat next to each other on the dock bench, so close and yet so far, the bond that had made them commit their crime now wedged between them like a sword, John bent forward in deep silence, Catherine sitting straight while cowering behind her shame. 

They showed no emotions as the judge asked them to stand and receive their sentences. Their real sentence had already been passed behind them in the hearts of their former parishioners who fixed them with accusations, questions and perhaps even something approaching future forgiveness in their eyes.

They were the first to leave the courtroom with their lawyer between them. They moved as if dragging themselves through a nightmare. By the time they reached the lobby outside the courts, John and the lawyer were walking out front while Catherine had fallen behind.

They looked like strangers now, walking through an estranged land.

The only expression of remorse that Catherine Dinn made in her statement came in the last sentence. It was also a plea.

"I'm sorry, and I regret the hurt I've caused and the damage done to John — I need HELP."

About the Author

Azzo Rezori


Azzo Rezori has been working with CBC News in Newfoundland and Labrador since 1987, and reports regularly for Here & Now and other broadcasts.