Troy priest embezzlement investigation shocks community
By Niraj Warikoo and Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press Staff Writers
Published: Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
To those who know him, the Rev. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More church in Troy is a gregarious pastor who helped grow his parish into one of the biggest Catholic congregations in Oakland County with his charisma and sense of humor. His homilies are so entertaining that some people attend his church just because of him.
“He was well-respected and well-loved,” said the Rev. Chris Yaw, a former Catholic who is rector of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Southfield. “People wanted to be around him. … He was an outstanding pastor.”
That’s why many were surprised to learn that Belczak, 67, was removed this week from his parish as Troy Police and the Archdiocese of Detroit investigate whether he embezzled $429,000 in church funds to benefit himself and an unnamed ghost employee.
“I’m shocked and stunned,” Yaw said about the allegations.
That view was echoed Wednesday by others.
“We’re all pretty shocked and saddened,” said Mary Jane Doherty, who has been a member of St. Thomas More parish for 17 years. “It’s a very sad day for us. … We’re praying for him.”
The archdiocese disclosed Tuesday that Belczak has been “temporarily excluded from the office of pastor” after an audit discovered financial irregularities that included receiving excessive pay worth $92,000 and paying a ghost employee at least $240,000. The archdiocese — which oversees 1.3 million Catholics — did not say who the ghost employee is.
The audit was one of about a dozen it does per year, part of an effort started in 2009 by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron “to better secure … finances,” archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said Wednesday.
Belczak, who is no longer allowed to reside at the parish that he led for 30 years, faces an administrative hearing that will be conducted by a priest from outside Michigan, McGrath said. The police investigation is separate.
Part of the embezzlement allegations involves the St. Thomas More Travel Group, which was a parish activity, though not a travel agency, McGrath said. On the church’s website, the travel group advertises upcoming trips to Israel and Russia.
“We offer opportunities to travel with both friends and fellow parishioners,” says the site for the travel group, which is part of the church website.
Belczak could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Officials at St. Thomas More either declined to comment or did not respond to calls and messages. Belczak’s brother, the Rev. Tom Belczak, a Catholic priest at St. Kenneth in Plymouth, also could not be reached for comment.
Marion McDonough, 65, of Troy has been a member of St. Thomas More since her teens, and her parents were founding members of the parish, established in 1963.
“His method of preaching is very entertaining,” said McDonough. “He tells a lot of jokes.”
Yaw co-led a funeral service with Belczak a few years ago, finding him great to work with. When he was a Catholic, Yaw had attended some of Belczak’s services.
Belczak “was like Johnny Carson,” Yaw said. “He was charismatic.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or firstname.lastname@example.org
More Details: Other cases
Recent cases of alleged embezzlement at churches in Michigan:
• November: Joseph Finnigan, former deacon at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grand Haven, charged with embezzlement between $20,000 and $50,000.
• August: Pastor Etheridge Henry Moore of Heritage Baptist Church in Gaines Township admits embezzling more than $100,000 from his church.
• April: A Wayne County judge orders Kathleen Galoch of Canton to pay restitution within four months for embezzling $13,169 from St. Theodore Catholic Church in Westland, where she worked from 1986 to 2011.
• February: Reuben Bynum arraigned on charges that he embezzled more than $600,000 from Trinity Baptist Church in Pontiac, where he had worked as a financial officer.
• December 2011: The Rev. Arthur Pearson Sr. of Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Grand Rapids accused by prosecutors of embezzling $50,000-$100,000.