A CATHOLIC priest has admitted abusing his position to fraudulently take at least £50,000 of church money over a period of more than four years.

Father John Charles Leo Reid could be facing a prison sentence when he returns to Durham Crown Court to learn his fate next month, following his change of plea at a brief hearing today.

The 69-year-old priest is alleged to have taken the money in the four years and five months after taking over the ministry of St Cuthbert’s Church, in Ropery Lane, Chester-le-Street, and St Bede’s Catholic, in nearby Sacriston.

Following his arrest, in May 2014, he voluntarily withdrew from public ministry during the course of more than two years Durham Police were conducting investigations in his case, a situation which will continue until he is sentenced.

He was charged, last July, under the Fraud Act, 2006, and appeared before Peterlee magistrates.

The case was sent to the crown court, where Fr Reid denied two charges of fraud by abuse of position, in September.

It was alleged between June 1, 2009, and October 31, 2013, he abused his position as parish priest, “in which he was expected to safeguard, or not act against, the financial interests of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, by failing to draw only modest and legitimate expenses, failing to set up a finance committee, and by failing to keep proper receipts and accounts, as he was required to do.”

It was alleged some of the money taken went on foreign travel, restaurants and cinema trips, but he claimed a lot of that spending came from an inheritance.

The case was set down for trial, due to start at the court in May.

But, brought into the court list yesterday, Fr Reid’s counsel, Christopher Knox, asked for one count to be put again to his client.

Fr Reid pleaded guilty, which the court heard was on a basis accepted by the Crown.

Mr Knox said: “What we now hope is that sentence can be dealt with, on April 7.

“We would anticipate there being a number of character references.

“There is a sum of money to be repaid to the diocese and we hope that will be effective by the time of sentence.”

Judge Christopher Prince said he wanted to know the exact agreed amount that is said to have been taken before the sentencing hearing.

Jane Waugh, prosecuting, said: “We have agreed that the lowest figure is £50,000.”

Mr Knox said some sums of money recovered by the police have already been passed on to the diocese.

Bailing Fr Reid, to St Patrick’s Presbytery, in Fairfield Road, Stockton, until sentence, Judge Prince told him: “The fact the case has been adjourned for sentence should be seen as no indication as to the final sentence.”

A spokesman for the diocese said it will not make comment, “until the full court process has run its course”.

Since being ordained into the priesthood in March 1971, Fr Reid has served in a number of parish positions across County Durham including Leadgate, Tow Law and Our Lady and St Thomas’ in Willington, before being appointed to St Cuthbert’s Church in 2009.

A keen Sunderland fan who led regular pilgrimages to the religious site of Lourdes in France, Fr Reid was a long-standing supporter of the former Ushaw College Roman Catholic seminary, near Durham, and sat on the council of St Cuthbert’s Society, an association of Ushaw alumni.