National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Suburban Detroit pastor, lay manager indicted on federal fraud charges

 | 
DETROIT

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.

Fr. Edward Belczak, 69, who was suspended by the Detroit archdiocese 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 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 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 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.

envelope.jpgIntroducing “A Roman Observer,” a new bi-weekly column from Robert Mickens featuring commentary and analysis on the latest news from the Vatican and the Eternal City.

Sign up for email alerts here.

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 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.

Belczak was named pastor of St. Thomas More since 1984.

While under suspension, 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 Belczak's legal costs. An archdiocesan spokesman told the Detroit Free Press that efforts to remove Belczak as pastor have been put on hold because of 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 Vigneron of Detroit and Pope Francis to return Belczak to his assignment.

The website even has a message from 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."

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."

NCR Comment code: (Comments can be found below)

Before you can post a comment, you must verify your email address at Disqus.com/verify.
Comments from unverified email addresses will be deleted.

  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the original idea will be deleted. NCR reserves the right to close comment threads when discussions are no longer productive.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report abuse" button. Once a comment has been flagged, an NCR staff member will investigate.

For more detailed guidelines, visit our User Guidelines page.

For help on how to post a comment, visit our reference page.

 

Feature_ad_Family-synod3.jpg

NCR Email Alerts

 

In This Issue

September 26-October 9, 2014

09-26-2014.jpg

Not all of our content is online. Subscribe to receive all the news and features you won't find anywhere else.