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Parishioners 'stunned' by priest's arrest for embezzlement

A popular Catholic priest in Michigan was recently arrested on suspicion that he committed embezzlement against his church. Parishioners and others in the religious community expressed shock that the suspect would be accused of stealing from the parish he led for 30 years.

"Shocked" was a word that came up repeatedly in a news article about the priest's arrest. The rector of an Episcopal church who knows the suspect said he was "shocked and stunned." A member of the priest's congregation said she was shocked as well.

Authorities claim that the priest used about $429,000 in church funds for himself and an unnamed "ghost employee." That employee is not being named by the archdiocese or by prosecutors, but he or she is believed to have received at least $240,000. Prosecutors say that a travel group run through the church may have been involved.

The irregularities allegedly were exposed by an audit conducted by the archdiocese several times a year since 2009. It is not clear when the priest is supposed to have begun the scheme or, if it has been going on for several years, why these audits did not uncover it before now. For now, the archdiocese has removed the suspect from his position and the home he was given at the parish. An administrative hearing will be held to determine if he will be permanently removed.

Parishioners and the Episcopal rector described the accused priest as charismatic and fond of using humor in his services.

While embezzlement charges are serious, being criminally charged is not the same thing as being convicted. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.

Source: Detroit Free Press, "Troy priest embezzlement investigation shocks community," Niraj Warikoo and Patricia Montemurri, Jan. 24, 2013

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