: Once beloved pastor, Rev. Joseph Hughes, suffered public fall from grace in 2004
By John Burton
RUMSON — The former pastor of Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, whose career there ended in a criminal conviction and prison, died last week.
The Rev. Joseph W. Hughes, 67, died on March 7 at Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank, according to the John E. Day Funeral Home, Red Bank.
The cause of death was not available but Hughes had suffered from a number of health concerns including diabetes and morbid obesity.
Hughes was pastor of Holy Cross Church and elementary school from 1988 until his 16-year career came to an abrupt end following his arrest in 2004. Hughes gained notoriety for a lavish lifestyle including frequently dining out at the area’s most exclusive and expensive restaurants and regular trips to sold out Broadway plays, was arrested and eventually indicted on 27 counts charging him with embezzling $2 million of church funds.
The money, law enforcement authorities said at the time, was used to pay for his lifestyle and to support a then 25-year-old male friend, who worked for the parish, and for whom Hughes purchased a luxury car, vacations and other expensive gifts.
Hughes pleaded guilty to three of the counts, acknowledging stealing more than $75,000 from church coffers from 1997 to 2004. The court ordered him to reimburse the church and to pay $120,000 in back state taxes.
He received a five-year prison sentence and served 180 days.
Hughes was born in New York City, received a Master’s in Divinity from St. Mary’s University, Baltimore, Maryland, and was ordained as a priest in May 1970 at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Keansburg.
Before coming to Rumson, he had been a principal of Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, and had served in parishes in Phillipsburg, Toms River and Middlesex.
Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Trenton said this week, “May he rest in peace.”
“I am saddened by the news of his passing,” said Michael Pappa, a Hazlet lawyer who represented Hughes. “I believe he was truly a good man. His fall from grace is well documented, but I know he loved being a priest and he was always willing to help people in a time of need.”
He is survived by a brother and sister and their families. His funeral was held at St. Ann’s last Saturday and he was interred at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Middletown, according to the funeral home.