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Ex-worldwide head of Anglican Communion visiting Detroit says: Christianity is vital for democracy, rights

Visiting Detroit, a former head of the biggest Protestant group in the world, the Anglican Communion, says that human rights and democracy comes out of Christianity

Published in Detroit Free Press, May 14, 2015

By Niraj Warikoo

— One of the world’s most prominent Protestant leaders is in Detroit this week, preaching that Christianity is vital for democracy, human rights and fulfilling the human soul. But in order for the Christian faith to survive in the West, it needs to reach out and help society or face continued decline, he said.

Lord George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, was once the nominal head of about 80 million Anglicans worldwide, the third-largest Christian group after the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Known for his conservative views, Lord Carey on Wednesday delivered the opening prayer to the state Senate in the Capitol and will speak this weekend at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, the house of worship near Comerica Park that is hosting him.

Speaking to the Free Press, Carey called for Christian churches to be more responsive to the needs of communities to remain relevant. His visit comes the same week that a major new report by Pew Research Center was released, showing that the number of Americans identifying as Christian dropped eight percentage points, from 78.4% to 70.6%, since 2007 – or about five million people.

The drop was especially sharp among mainline Protestants, which include Episcopalians, an American denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. In the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Sunday attendance has declined more than 35% since 2000.

“I would look at a church and say, what do you offer young people, what are you offering elderly people, what are you offering young married couples, offering homeless people?” Carey said in an interview. “It’s about responding to the needs of the society … If your church were to disappear overnight, would your community miss you?”

For a church to remain relevant, it has to be “responding to the needs of the society.”

The fading of Christianity concerns Carey, once described as the Pope Emeritus of conservative Anglicans all over the world.

“Christianity is integral to our democracy” and human rights, said Carey, who led the Church of England from 1991 to 2002. “People make the assumption that Western democracy is based upon the principles of the Enlightenment,” but it comes from Christianity.

“Human rights, parliamentary democracy … flows out of a firm conviction in which God is central … the value of an individual,” he said. “If we leave Christianity behind, where will our moral system end up? I don’t know. I’m slightly worried about that.”

Carey will speak at St. John’s Episcopal Church, a historic church that has made a comeback over the past dozen years under the Rev. Steven Kelly, who does a more traditional liturgy. Their spike in membership at a time of Episcopal decline shows that traditional views could help stem the decline of Christianity, say church members. While mainline Protestants suffered the greatest loss in membership over the past seven years, evangelical Christians grew by two million, according to the new Pew report.

“Traditional liturgical churches with a solid theological grounding are growing,” said Dennis Lennox, a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who helped organize Carey’s visit. “At St. John’s, our fastest-growing demographic are 20s and 30s, which defies the conventional wisdom and statistics.”

Lennox said that “if mainline Christianity – and specifically Anglicans and Episcopalians – had more Lord Careys, then more churches wouldn’t be scratching their heads, wondering why the pews are empty.”

Carey is also expected to talk about the increasing persecution of Christians in the Middle East, and the importance of religious liberty, two issues that concern many Christians. While he opposes same-sex marriage, he says that “the church ought not to be seen talking so much about sexuality and homosexuality.”

Instead, churches should be engaging people where they are: from sports to community affairs to every day activities.

“The church is relevant to society in a big way,” he said.

“Each one of us has a spiritual dimension,” he said. He said he often hears people say: “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual. But can you have a spirituality that’s not religious? … People often don’t realize what they’re looking for. And the church has to be there to capture that, give them hope, and be available for them.”

The Rev. Kelly said: “People are seeking meaning in sexuality, they’re seeking meaning in sports, they’re seeking meaning in all sorts of things, but that doesn’t fill the God-sized hole” in people’s souls that religion can.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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Exclusive: Catholic pastor in Troy, Michigan, bought $500,000 Florida condo from his church manager

I obtained and reviewed documents from Florida that show Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More parish in Troy, Michigan, bought on March 28, 2005, a half-million home from his longtime parish manager, Janice Verschuren. Both have now been removed amid an embezzlement investigation.

Detroit Free Press: “The charismatic Catholic pastor removed last week from his parish in Troy amid an embezzlement investigation bought a half-million-dollar condo in Florida from his longtime church administrator, the Free Press has learned.”

Click here to read more.

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Fr. Belczak story

Hi, If you would like to comment or share thoughts about Fr. Edward Belczak of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, please contact me anytime at nwarikoo@freepress.com, 313-223-4792, or Twitter.com/nwarikoo. Thank you.

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January 26, 2013 · 11:12 am

Embezzlement investigation of Troy pastor Rev. Edward Belczak surprises those who knew him

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 nwarikoo@freepress.com

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.

 

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Detroit Archdiocese removes Troy pastor Rev. Belczak as police and archdiocese investigate alleged $429,000 embezzlement

Rev. Belczak was removed from St. Thomas More church in Troy, Michigan for alleged embezzlement

Detroit Archdiocese removes Troy pastor as police and archdiocese investigate alleged $429,000 embezzlement

By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Published: Jan. 22, 2013

Police are investigating whether the longtime pastor of a Catholic church in Troy might have embezzled or mismanaged more than $400,000, the Detroit Archdiocese said Tuesday.

The archdiocese removed the Rev. Edward Belczak, 67, the pastor at St. Thomas More Parish for almost 30 years, saying he may have misappropriated $429,000, using that money to pad his salary and pay a ghost employee. Troy police are currently conducting their own investigation into the allegations.

“Parish staff, council and committees were informed today” about Belczak’s removal, Ned McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese, told the Free Press.

In a statement, the archdiocese – which oversees 1.3 million Catholics in metro Detroit – said that an audit discovered “questionable financial transactions and practices” at St. Thomas More.

Established in 1963, St. Thomas More has grown to become one of the bigger churches in Oakland County, with about 2,500 families.

Effective Tuesday, Belczak has been “temporarily excluded from the office of pastor, meaning he cannot function as the parish’s pastor until an administrative review process is completed,” the statement said. The pastor also is barred from living in residence at the parish.

“The archdiocese has fully cooperated with civil authorities in this case and will continue to do so,” the statement said.

Belczak, who will remain a priest for now, could not be reached for comment.

Msgr. John Zenz, pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham and episcopal vicar of the Northwest Region, was named administrator of St. Thomas More.

Belczak is accused of:

— Receiving excessive compensation worth $92,000.

— Directing money to himself worth $16,000 that should have been posted to parish accounts.

— Paying a ghost employee $240,000 over the past six years.

— Accepting $25,000 in residual commission checks to the St. Thomas More Travel Group that should have been deposited or recorded in parish accounts.

— Not disclosing or recording the financial transactions of the St. Thomas More Travel Group.

— Failing to deposit or record monies received through Mother’s Day and Father’s Day special collections.

— Not monitoring $10,000 in cash, which was found in an employee’s desk.

— Providing improper medical and dental coverage for an individual worth $26,000 during the past six years.

— Authorizing a long-term disability policy for an employee while not providing it to others, costing $20,000.

Educated at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Belczak was ordained in 1972. He served as associate pastor at National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak in 1972-75, and then co-pastor at the church in 1975-80.

He was associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington in 1980-84.

In 1984, he became pastor at St. Thomas More.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792

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Bishop Moses Anderson, the first and only African-American Catholic bishop in metro Detroit, died on New Year’s Day.

Bishop Moses Anderson, the first and only African-American Catholic bishop in metro Detroit, died on Jan. 1, 2013. He was 84.

By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Bishop Moses Anderson, the first and only African-American bishop in the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, died Tuesday after having a heart attack. He was 84.

Bishop Anderson was ordained as an auxiliary (assistant) bishop in 1983, serving initially under Cardinal Edmud Szoka, then head of the archdiocese. Bishop Anderson served for 20 years as a bishop until retiring in 2003.

“He was unfailingly generous,” said Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron. “We will miss him greatly.”

Bishop Anderson’s appointment 30 years ago was heralded in Detroit, a city with the largest percentage of African Americans among major U.S. cities. African Americans made up a small percentage of Catholics in the archdiocese, but their numbers grew over the decades. Bishop Anderson became one of six assistants to Szoka.

He “was a deeply spiritual and holy bishop,” recalled Cardinal Adam Maida, head of the Archdiocese of Detroit from 1990 to 2009. “He was a very faithful and dedicated churchman. … He was particularly dedicated in his concern and love for the poor and their struggle for justice and peace.”

During his ministry, Bishop Anderson oversaw areas that included 63 churches in the archdiocese, church officials said. From 1992 to 2001, he was pastor at Precious Blood Parish in Detroit, which has since merged with St. Peter Claver Parish.

Bishop Anderson visited the African nation of Ghana several times and, in 1990, was named as a tribal chief of the Ashanti tribe.

“I tell young (African-American) people, you must not forget the blood of kings and queens flows in your veins,” Bishop Anderson told the Free Press after the chief ceremony.

Born in Selma, Ala., Bishop Anderson attended the Edmundite College of St. Michael’s in Winooski, Vt., and St. Edmund Seminary in Burlington, Vt. He was ordained a priest in 1958.

When he was appointed bishop in 1983, he said: “I’m not a messiah and not about to be swept along by a tide. I work quietly and, I hope, effectively. I don’t have any studied arrogance, presuming to know all the answers. My whole style is to do what needs to be done without a lot of fanfare.”

According to an article by Catholic News Service, one of his first significant speeches after becoming bishop was on race. Speaking in 1983 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bishop Anderson “warned that the United States was going backwards on race relations after years of improvement,” the article said.

Bishop Anderson enjoyed gardening, playing guitar, gourmet cooking and also did Zen Buddhist meditation. He loved the arts and donated much of his personal collection to several Catholic colleges and universities across the U.S.

“He would often sing a hymn with his wonderful voice during his sermons,” Szoka said.

Bishop Anderson will lie in repose at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, 9844 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 2-8:30 p.m. Sunday with a vigil service at 7 p.m. Visitation will continue 10 a.m. Monday until his funeral mass at 11 a.m.

He is survived by his brother Woodrow Williams and several nieces and nephews.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792

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Changes coming to Catholic Mass. New translation first in 40 years.

Published: Detroit Free Press
Nov. 25, 2011, Page 1a

The Rev. Gary Smetanka begins mass, assisted by Maria Ciaravino, 13, at Our Lady Star of the Sea. The changes start Sunday.Catholic mass to have the biggest change in 40 years

By Niraj Warikoo

Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

The biggest changes to Catholic mass in about 40 years will start Sunday, part of an attempt by the church to return to its roots.

But while church leaders praise the changes in wording, others say they’re a regression that will make mass harder to understand and were implemented top-down without considering what Catholics on the ground think. To critics, it’s a move away from the reforms of Vatican II in the 1960s that allowed mass in local languages instead of Latin. Though the mass still will be said in English and other languages, the words are a more direct translation of Latin and Hebrew words.

In the old mass, God is called the “Lord of power and might.” Now, he’s the “Lord of hosts,” a more direct translation of an ancient term for armies.

“It’s just a giant step backwards,” said Carmen Gudan, 63, of Dearborn. “It will drive people away.”

Church leaders acknowledge that the changes may take some getting used to, but say they will help Catholics draw closer to their faith.

“My hope would be they give it a chance … give it some time to have an effect,” said the Rev. Gary Smetanka, head of the worship commission of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods.

————————————————–

Some Catholics in metro Detroit fear mass confusion over changes to liturgy

For decades, English-speaking Catholics described Jesus during mass as “one in being with the father.”

But starting Sunday, they will say he’s “consubstantial with the father,” using a word that means roughly the same thing, but is awkward and confusing to many.

That substitution is part of the biggest change to the English-language Catholic mass in about 40 years, one that will affect how up to 1.3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit recite words during services.

The changes have upset some, illustrating the divide between liberal and conservative Catholics. Critics say the new wording was thrust upon a reluctant public by the Vatican with little input from Americans and others. To them, it reflects the church’s rightward shift and an increased reluctance to listen to its members on a range of issues, from abusive priests to finances. The wording changes make the mass more opaque and unfamiliar, they argue.

“There are a lot of people upset by the changes, and the process by which the changes were made,” said Tom Kyle, 72, a Catholic from Farmington who says the church should be more open. “There is a lot of resistance from the clergy. A lot of the priests don’t like it.”

The word “consubstantial” is one example of what Kyle says represents a backward step for the church.

“Technically, it’s correct, but people don’t know what ‘consubstantial’ means,” Kyle said. “It doesn’t make any sense for many. And it doesn’t have the same flow.”

Higher language

But church leaders in Detroit and across the U.S. say the changes elevate the language in the liturgy. And they’re making people look anew at words they might have said by rote in the past.

“After 40 years of having more of a common language, this might take a little while to get used to, but it’s something that perhaps can take people to a different level,” said Smetanka.

“With change, there is new growth, new possibilities and new discoveries, and maybe it’s something the Holy Spirit is leading us to, to something richer and to a new discovery of our understanding of God, and the saints and the church.”

For the Catholic Church, mass is a key part of the faith, and the words that are recited are considered carefully. They are part of a text called the Roman Missal, whose language was changed after the reforms of the Vatican II Council in the 1960s.

Those reforms allowed mass to be said in local languages instead of the traditional Latin and encouraged more openness and variation. But conservatives say the pendulum shifted too far to the left. The late Pope John Paul II — who could recite the mass in several languages — wanted a more uniform language for the missal.

About a decade ago, he called for updated translations, which were worked on for years. Kyle said that the input from some American Catholic bishops was essentially ignored as the Vatican hierarchy put its foot down about the mass changes.

More singing

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, leaders have worked on introducing the changes over the past two years, Smetanka said. He and other clergy have visited a number of parishes, meeting nearly 3,000 people to explain the new words. They’ve held workshops to make people familiar with them. And in recent weeks, pastors have handed out cards with the new words to help familiarize parishioners.

One goal, he said, is to encourage “more chanting and singing of the mass.”

“Our liturgy is really meant to be sung at every mass.”

The process is making Catholics get back in touch with the meaning of the words, he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be renewed in our understanding of the mass.”

But Gudan doesn’t feel that way. The 63-year-old lifelong Catholic says she thinks it’s a big mistake, one that betrays the spirit of the 1960s reforms that opened up the church.

“It’s a direct violation of Vatican II,” she said. “The whole purpose of that is to make things easier, and this makes things more difficult.”

One of the text changes that concerns Gudan centers on sin. In the old mass, Catholics say, “I have sinned through my own fault.”

Starting Sunday, they will say, “I have greatly sinned … through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

Gudan said, “We’re wailing about our sinfulness instead of celebrating going out and following the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

The new language also doesn’t flow as well, she and others say.

“It’s stilted,” she said. “I can’t stand it. It’s just repulsive.”

But Smetanka said that “the new language is more of an elevated language. … Sacred language is different than common street language.”

Andrew Brown, 21, of Ann Arbor welcomes the changes.

“It shows the church takes seriously our tradition,” he said.

“It’s very easy to be mechanical with your words and just go through the motions,” he said. “These changes … will be significant enough to make (Catholics) wake up and think about the words again.”

Brown likes how the changes emphasize the universal nature of the church. One of the goals of the Vatican is to make sure that masses said around the world are similar enough to remind Catholics that their church is a worldwide institution. Brown, a student whose minor is Spanish, said:

“It’s cool … having unity along the language front and trying to remain faithful to the original Latin.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: 313-223-4792 or nwarikoo@freepress.com


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