DETROIT (CNS) — The former pastor of a parish in suburban Detroit pleaded guilty Sept. 1 in U.S. District Court to a charge of mail fraud.
Father Edward Belczak, 70, had been pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Troy for nearly 30 years. The federal government originally lodged five charges against him in 2014 accusing him of stealing money from the parish over an eight-year period.
In late August, the government amended the indictment to one count of mail fraud, accusing him of sending incomplete financial reports to the Archdiocese of Detroit in 2010.
“Why am I pleading guilty?” Father Belczak told U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Tarnow. “Because I am.”
As part of his guilty plea, Father Belczak is to make $573,000 in restitution.
He agreed to forfeit the condominium he purchased in 2005 in West Palm Beach, Florida, to apply to the restitution. The priest estimated its value at $525,000.
Father Belczak said in court he used $109,000 in parish funds as a “loan” to help buy the condo. He admitted to removing the money after the parish’s fiscal reporting period had ended.
He said that after receiving money from the trust of a deceased couple — a figure put in the 2014 indictment at $350,000 — “the trustee wrote to me that these funds are for your use.” Acknowledging he did not report this bequest to the archdiocese, Father Belczak added, “I decided to do this for me.”
Tarnow told Father Belczak after accepting his guilty plea that he needed to think less on how he could justify his actions and more on “how many people you disappointed and hurt. I’m not going to say any more. You have to decide that.”
The archdiocese suspended Father Belczak in January 2013 after discovering financial irregularities at the parish.
The 2015 edition of the Official Catholic Directory lists Father Belczak as being “absent on leave.”
Father Belczak’s bond was continued. His sentencing date was set for Dec. 1. While he could receive up to 20 years in prison, sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of 33-41 months.