Felindia Henderson
Contributing Columnist
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My fault, my fault, my most grievous error.
Joseph P. Cramer, known to his flock as Father Joe, did not plead guilty to the felony theft charge against him, but pled, instead, nolo contendre. With this plea, a defendant accepts conviction without any admittance of guilt.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, began investigating financial concerns at Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner more than a year ago. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann put the Reverend Joseph Cramer on administrative leave in September 2017.
His parishioners stood up for him, this man described as a benevolent, generous shepherd. They started a petition that acquired 483 signatures. A Facebook page, “We Love You Father Joe Cramer,” gained 104 likes.
Cramer was described as an amazing and articulate priest, with sermons memorable and full of joy.
He had written the prayer on the hallway wall of the new Christian Formation Center, “Dear Father, You commanded us in holy Scripture to proclaim your good news. May this Christian Formation Center become a true expression of our love for you . . . .”
Divine Mercy Parish of Gardner-Edgerton raised $3.87 million to build that center, and Cramer was described as “Father Joe, our rock during this period with his resolve, sense of humor and positive attitude.” Archbishop Naumann thanked Cramer for his leadership.
“We want Father Joe Cramer back!” a petition declared, and further stated, “Father Joe Cramer was and still is the one who brought many to church . . . because of the love he poured into the Mass, and into the community . . . He was a true embodiment of Christ’s love.”
Court documents revealed that between November 2015 and May 2016, checks made payable to Cramer when printed had been changed in QuickBooks to names of 20 other vendors and priests. The 76 checks amounted to more than $25,000.
In the last week of October, a Johnson County judge ordered Cramer to pay more than $46,000 to the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, and he was banned from entering casinos. He will be sentenced on December 30.
A first offense felony theft conviction can result in restitution, jail time, community service, and/or probation. It remains to be seen if the court will offer mercy to a 69-year-old man who has done so much for so many throughout his lifetime.