An Ontario church has lost its charity status after federal regulators found it was controlled by a priest convicted of more than 150 crimes, many of them fraud-related.
Father Terry Mertick has been arrested more than a dozen times since 1983. A judge called him a “predator” and “extremely manipulative and deceitful.”
Following a 2007 fraud arrest, he said his upbringing had left him “unable to handle finances properly.”
But Canada Revenue Agency compliance officers have only now revoked the government registration of his London, Ont., charity, the Old Roman Catholic Church in Canada.
“There’s no story here,” Mertick told Global News.
He acknowledged the CRA had revoked the church’s charity status but called it a “non-issue,” saying “our religious and non-profit situation remain intact.”
“Somehow I truly doubt that if Christ were to appear in the flesh, his first concern would be whether to register with the authorities or not,” Mertick wrote in a subsequent email.
As far back as 2002, Mertick was described by the London Free Press as a grifter and a “reverend on the run.” The newspaper reported that Ontario Provincial Police had issued a public warning that he was impersonating police officers and priests.
The federal government nonetheless allowed him to operate charitable organizations for more than a decade. Federal charity records list Mertick as a director of the Old Roman Catholic Church since 1989.
He was identified in the records variably as the CEO, executive director, president, vice-president and bishop. He had also completed the group’s annual tax returns, the CRA said.
A second charity, Pastoral Care Mission Services, which had listed Mertick as a director since 2000, as well as CEO and executive director, lost its charity status in 2014 due to his involvement.
But the CRA’s decision on the Old Roman Catholic Church was only issued on July 28, although the charity was also run by Mertick and shared common directors and an address with Pastoral Care Mission Services.
In a letter obtained by Global News, the CRA Charities Directorate listed convictions in 1987, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2009 that it said made Mertick an “ineligible individual” to control and manage a charity.
“The above-mentioned convictions, particularly those relating to fraud and theft, directly relate to financial dishonesty,” the CRA wrote in the December 2017 letter.
The CRA letters to Mertick did not mention his more recent arrests in 2015 after police spotted him driving a car outfitted with flashing lights and a siren, and for mischief in 2017.
Mertick said he “did things I shouldn’t have” but he had reformed.
“I really think that I’ve changed,” he said. “People should be entitled to move on with their lives.”
He also said none of his crimes related to the former charities. But at his 2009 sentencing, the judge noted that one of the exhibits at his trial was a Pastoral Care Missions card bearing his photograph and the name of his older brother Curtis, who died at the age of one month.
The CRA decision means the church can no longer issue tax receipts to donors allowing them to deduct their contributions on their income tax returns. The former charity will also have to pay a revocation tax, the CRA said in a letter.
The agency did not explain why it had not acted sooner. A spokesperson said the CRA only gained the authority in 2012 to revoke a charity’s registration because of an ineligible director.
A charity expert, Toronto lawyer Mark Blumberg, confirmed that was the case but said the CRA had not enforced the regulation immediately and had used it sparingly.
“This is a good example of why it’s good to have that provision,” he said.
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The Old Roman Catholic Church listed its charitable activities as promoting traditional Catholic worship and teachings, conducting weddings and funerals and caring for “displaced animals of elderly members.”
It is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, which issued a memo to staff in 2007 warning about Mertick.
“From time to time one hears of someone who, for whatever reasons, dresses up and tries to pass as someone such as a priest or church representative,” said Nelson Couto, the Diocese spokesperson. “I can confirm that Mr. Mertick is not a priest incardinated in the Diocese of London and he is not associated with the Roman Catholic Church, if indeed any church at all.”
But Mertick said he was an ordained priest of the Old Roman Catholic Church and a bishop.
“Regardless of my past, I am a priest,” he said.
He said his church was a legitimate religious denomination and accused the CRA of “mudslinging.” He said the “factual reason” for the agency’s action was that the church had stopped submitting tax returns after deciding not to maintain its charity status.
Mertick said the church had only maintained charity status in the hope of obtaining a licence to perform marriages in Ontario. The group reported no revenues in 2016 and only $500 in 2015, CRA records show.
A former director, Gilles Tremblay, said he had left the board of the Old Roman Catholic Church over Mertick’s involvement in crime. “I don’t want to be associated with him and I am no more associated with him,” he said from Montreal.
Mertick’s first conviction was 35 years ago for three counts of break-and-enter and theft, according to a sentencing decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Mertick said he broke into a school and was acting out because his father was dying of cancer.
In 1987, Mertick was convicted of possession of property obtained by crime. Florida court records indicate a 1988 arrest for “grand theft” and “worthless check.” Between 1990 and 2004 he was convicted repeatedly of fraud, and was imprisoned in the United States between 2000 and 2003, the CRA said.
He was arrested for fraud again in 2007. At his sentencing, the judge said Mertick had tried to “pass himself off as his deceased brother in order to pursue his fraudulent activities.”
The “ineligible individual” provisions of Canadian charity law allow regulators to refuse or revoke the registration of a group that is under the control or management of someone who has been convicted of a “relevant criminal offence.”
That includes crimes related to financial dishonesty such as tax evasion, fraud and theft. But the CRA can also allow charities to remain registered if the director in question is removed from the board.
Mertick said his criminal record was “irrelevant” because he was no longer on the board of directors.
“To focus on legalities or legislation set out by a government is to devalue our religious rights and could be viewed as an attempt to prohibit our members’ religious rights,” Mertick wrote in an email to Global News.