Reporting Charlie Langton
TROY (WWJ) - Some local parishioners are upset about a Catholic solicitation in honor of a priest who is currently being investigated by the FBI for allegedly stealing money from a Troy church.
Saint Thomas More Parish is trying to raise about $300,000 to help support church activities – that’s nothing new. But this year, the church says it wants the money to be raised in honor of Father Edward Belczak, who was suspended by the Archdiocese of Detroit in January amid accusations that he mishandled at least $429,000 in church money over the past six years.
In a mailed solicitation letter to parishioners, the church says a donation to this year’s Catholic Services Appeal (CSA) is “the best tribute you could give to Fr. Belczak’s ministry.”
The letter goes on to say that not giving to the fund will only hurt the church in the long run. It also says that those who do not respond to the plea will continued to be contacted about the issue.
“Choosing not to contribute to CSA will harm only St. Thomas More parish and our own programs; it will not ‘send a message’ of frustration or disappointment to the Archbishop,” the letter reads.
Click here to read the letter (.pdf format)
The plea is not sitting well with many parishioners like Lisa, who was reluctant to be identified.
“This is about the first communication we’ve received from the church since these embezzlement charges were made against Fr. Belczak,” she said.
“We expected assurance that the money that we’re donating would be put to good use, considering that he is charged with taking our money. We expected some assurance from the church that they would distance themselves from this type of practice. Instead, we get a letter soliciting additional funds and asking us to make a legacy toward Fr. Belczak and giving a tribute to him. I can tell you we thought it was offensive,” she continued.
Lisa said she believes the tribute is unfounded and likely won’t help the church this year.
“Instead of giving assurance that this would not happen again, the church is asking us to create a legacy for him and asking us to basically further support his practices,” she said. “I would have been much more likely to make a donation if they had taken steps to assure us that these funds would be put to good use and his legacy would not be continued, actually.”
No criminal charges have been filed against Belczak, and FBI officials say they’re still building a case.
“We understand that there hasn’t been a trial, that there’s no conviction, but he was removed by the archdiocese for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the church, our money,” Lisa said. “It’s outrageous.”
The archdiocese says an audit found that Belczak paid a “ghost employee” $240,000. It says the priest also took $92,000 in compensation above what he’s supposed to get under church policies.
According to the archdiocese, Belczak directed funds to himself that should have been posted to parish accounts, estimating a loss to the parish of $16,000.
The archdiocese says Belczak also failed to record or deposit monies received through the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day special collections according to archdiocesan policies, an amount estimated over $10,000, which was found in an employee’s office desk.
Other misappropriations attributed to Belczak include maintaining improper medical and dental insurance coverage for an individual, estimating a loss of approximately $26,000; authorizing a long-term disability policy for one employee while not providing similar benefits to other parish staff members, estimating a loss of $20,000; and accepting, but not depositing or recording in parish accounts, residual commission checks to the St. Thomas More Travel Group, estimating a loss of $25,000.
Belczak, who was ordained in 1972, has been pastor of St. Thomas More Parish since 1984.