DETROIT (CNS) — The suspended pastor of a parish in the Detroit suburbs was indicted April 23 on federal fraud charges, as was the former parish manager of St. Thomas More Parish in Troy.
Father Edward Belczak, 69, who was suspended by the Archdiocese of Detroit in January 2013, was indicted on mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Janice Verschuren, 67, who left the parish at the time of Father Belczak’s suspension, also was named in the 16-page indictment.
At issue is nearly $700,000 in parish funds donated between 2004 and 2012 that have not been accounted for.
On one charge, the government accuses Father Belczak of diverting more than $109,000 of parish funds to put a down payment on a condominium he purchased in 2005 from Verschuren. The FBI moved April 21, the day after Easter, to seize the condo.
The indictment also contends that Father Belczak spent money from a $420,000 bequest left by a parishioner who died in 2006 and intended the money to be used “for the needs of the church.” According to the indictment, the priest deposited the funds in a money market account he kept secret from the archdiocese.
The government said Verschuren intercepted offering funds donated by parishioners on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day from 2007 through 2012. In addition, according to the indictment, she assisted Father Belczak in stealing more than $33,000 owed to the parish by Diocesan Publications and more than $26,000 in commissions paid to the parish’s travel club.
Father Belczak was named pastor of St. Thomas More since 1984.
While under suspension, Father Belczak continues to receive his salary from the archdiocese — which ranges from $27,500 to the mid $30,000s, plus benefits — and may perform priestly functions elsewhere in the archdiocese with prior approval. Recently, he has celebrated Masses at another suburban parish where his brother is the pastor.
The archdiocese, though, is not paying for Father Belczak’s legal costs. An archdiocesan spokesman told the Detroit Free Press that efforts to remove Father Belczak as pastor have been put on hold due to the civil court’s actions.
Supporters of the priest are waging an online campaign to restore him to his pastorate, asking people to write to Archbishop Allan H. Vigneron of Detroit and Pope Francis to return Father Belczak to his assignment.
The website even has a message from Father Belczak in which was purportedly written in December. In the message, he said, “Losing my job, home and good reputation has brought me to my knees and here I found God awaiting me. His graced has never left me and his assurance continues to direct me.”
Father Belczak’s attorney, Jerome Sabbota, told the Detroit Free Press, “My client is not happy. Nobody that gets indicted is happy. He looks forward to doing what he has to do.”