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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.”

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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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Interview with Rev. Gary Hall, Episcopal priest who’s new dean at Washington National Cathedral

Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington National Cathedral. Photo credit: Washington National Cathedral

The new dean of Washington National Cathedral, Rev. Gary Hall, made headlines in recent weeks with his calls for gun control and announcing that the cathedral – considered America’s house of worship – will perform gay marriages.

His previous position was rector of the biggest Episcopal church in Michigan, Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills. Before he left, Rev. Hall spoke with Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press on a range of issues.
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Cranbrook rector bound for D.C. talks religion, politics

 By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

Published in Detroit Free Press on Sunday, 10/7/2012

Page: 7A

     Raised in Hollywood amid celebrities as the son of a noted actor, Rev. Gary Hall wasn’t into church during his early years.  But that changed after he learned about the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. He remembers Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visiting southern California and hearing Malcolm X speak when he was a teenager. He once wrote jokes for TV host Steve Allen, who influenced his social views. And during his freshman year at Yale, the university’s chaplain was arrested on the steps of the Pentagon, another act that drew Hall to liberal Christianity.

Last week, Hall, 62, became dean of Washington National Cathedral, the national seat of the Episcopal Church and considered America’s house of worship. The move came after he served as rector at Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, the biggest Episcopal Church in Michigan. He was also the chaplain at Cranbrook’s high school.

“There are people in this parish that think I have dangerously, crazy ideas about things, ” he jokes about his progressive beliefs.

Hall’s new position will put his liberal views on the national stage at a time when religion and politics are hotly contested issues. He wants to make the cathedral a place of interfaith dialogue and “conversation about the role of religion in public life, ” Hall said.

There are churches that “show you a kind of angry, not welcoming Christianity, ” Hall explained from his office. “We want to be the other side of that, to show there’s a humane, hospitable, inclusive, tolerant Christianity.”

Hall, who received a doctorate in English, spoke with the Free Press on a range of topics, from marriage to politics to other religions.

Among the conversation topics:

On religion and public policy: “I’m a believer in the separation of church and state. The First Amendment says: Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof…. It’s a very hard case to make that America ever was a Christian nation. I think it’s naïve to say the founders were Christian, that biblical values are behind the Constitution…. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean (religious people) shouldn’t have a voice in public policy. Faith communities taking positions on public policy matters is an important and established part of our public life.

“What I don’t think is appropriate is for one tradition to try to impose its own moral point of view on the populace.”

On the role of religion in presidential politics: “I get nervous when certain religious groups want to make religious faith a sort of litmus test. The religious affiliation of any candidate is unimportant to me. And whether or not God is mentioned in (either) party platform is unimportant to me. What’s important to me are the social values that are being advocated in that platform.”

On non-Christian faiths: “I do believe there is truth in every tradition. I’m not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me….

“I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians. The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism….

“I taught at Cranbrook a class (this year) where I had to teach the Quran, which I read for the first time in my life. I was stunned by how beautiful it was.”

On gay marriage: (Hall edited and contributed to a 2009 book used by Episcopalians: “Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, ” which supports gay marriage.) “I don’t understand the argument when people say: ‘Gay marriage threatens your marriage.’ I want to say to them: ‘No, Britney Spears being married for a day and a half threatens your marriage. Or these reality TV shows. The gay and lesbian people I know take marriage as seriously as straight couples….

“I think straight people have a lot to learn from gay and lesbian families, about what real mutuality and real sharing is. (With gay couples), things are much more mutual and shared and equal. And I think that’s a powerful witness that straight people like me can learn from.”

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

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Episcopal Church losing members as it strives for inclusion

Some conservatives say the Episcopal Church is losing members because it has gone too far left on political and social issues, such as same-sex unions. But the Church’s highest ranking lay leader Bonnie Anderson (in photo) said the church isn’t too liberal and regardless, won’t shift its views because people are leaving.

July 7, 2012, Detroit Free Press

http://www.freep.com/article/20120707/NEWS05/207070359/Episcopal-Church-losing-members-as-it-strives-for-inclusion-champion-for-change-steps-down

By Niraj Warikoo

Free Press Staff Writer

As the highest ranking lay leader in the Episcopal Church for the past six years, Bonnie Anderson has had a hectic schedule, traveling across the U.S. to be a voice for the Protestant denomination’s 2 million members.

But, despite her long days, the Bingham Farms woman sets aside time for “prayer and meditation every day … or I could get out of whack.”

It’s a daily routine that has helped guide Anderson, who plans to step down next week at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, held every three years. Along with Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori, Anderson is one of the two top leaders in the church. As president of the Church’s House of Deputies, Anderson, 69, said she has accomplished her goals of promoting democracy, diversity and social justice.

Anderson said she is stepping down to spend more time with her family, especially her 42-year-old son, who became physically challenged 20 years ago after a car accident.

“He’s like living with a miracle,” Anderson said at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pontiac.

Anderson’s leaving comes at a time of challenges for the Episcopal Church, a denomination rooted in the Church of England. Traditionally part of the Anglo upper class, members of the Episcopal Church have the highest incomes and percentage of those with a college degree among all Christian denominations, according to Pew surveys.  Continue reading

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Bio of Niraj Warikoo

Niraj Warikoo is the religion reporter for the Detroit Free Press.  He graduated from Columbia College at Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism with a masters degree in journalism.  Over the past decade, he’s written extensively about the domestic war on terrorism and its impact on metro Detroit’s diverse communities. In 2005, he was one of ten journalists selected to be a fellow at the University of Southern California, where he studied national security and civil liberties in the post 9-11 era.   In 2008, he was invited to give a presentation on the relationship between American Muslims and the U.S. government at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London in England for an international conference on Islam in the West that featured experts and leaders from Europe, the U.S., and Arab world.

Warikoo has been an invited speaker or panelist at universities such as the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan State, and Wayne State; and at the national conventions of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors), AAJA, SAJA, UNITY, and Poynter’s National Writers Workshop.   He’s appeared on local and national TV and radio programs such as MSNBC’s Hardball Show with Chris Matthews, and with MSNBC hosts Alison Stewart and Contessa BrewerC-SPAN, CNN Headline News with Jane Velez-Mitchell , and NPR’s Tell me More with Michel Martin (National Public Radio.)  In previous years, he wrote often about workplace safety issues, including investigative reports that exposed corporate negligence in the deaths of six workers at the Ford Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Warikoo also has examined the environmental destruction of Michigan’s wetlands in a special report based on new data he obtained.   In 2005, he visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. to write about U.S. soldiers who became amputees after serving in Iraq; the story examined how new technology has improved survival chances, but also brings recovery challenges for victims. In 2006, he traveled across Lebanon to write stories for the Detroit Free Press on the aftermath of the war between Hizballah and Israel, which affected communities in metro Detroit. 

Warikoo has written often about Michigan’s immigrant communities, from the lives of Mexican-Americans to Vietnamese Catholics, as well as  the region’s Arab-American and Muslim population —  the highest concentration in the U.S.   His work was profiled in a Poynter story after the Sept. 11 attacks and he became a resource for other journalists seeking to understand the region’s Arab and Muslim communities.  He covered the case of a Michigan man detained on terrorism suspicions; after the government banned him and other reporters from attending court hearings, his newspaper filed a lawsuit on his behalf that was eventually won in an appeals court.  In the run up to and during the Iraq war, he interviewed top leaders in Iraq’s government and political parties on their frequent visits to metro Detroit, including Iraq’s future Prime Minister. 

In recent years, he’s written about a wide range of religious issues, including: the Dalai Lama’s lectures in Michigan, men and masculinity in churches, splits within the Episcopal Church, Catholic natural family planning, the growing rate of Jewish interfaith marriages, and religious belief in the end of times.  In 2010, he wrote a special report that revealed the use of secret informants in the counter-terrorism case of a Muslim leader killed in a shootout in Dearborn with FBI agents.  Also this year, he was the lead reporter on the FBI raid and arrests of members of a Christian militia in Michigan called Hutaree allegedly plotting against the U.S. government.  Outside of work, Warikoo enjoys listening to music; he played the piano and trumpet for 10 years.

Reach him by email: nwarikoo@freepress.com or on Twitter.com/nwarikoo @nwarikoo

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