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January 24, 2013

Archdiocese removes pastor of St. Thomas More

Over $429,000 was missing in annual audit

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

The 29-year pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church on Adams in Troy has been barred from all his parish duties while Troy police and Archdiocese of Detroit officials determine if he stole money from the church. 

Officials in the offices of St. Thomas More parish would not comment on the matter.

Joe Kohn, director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Detroit, said the discovery of Rev. Edward Belczak’s financial transactions in question came to light during the annual archdiocese audit in June.

Kohn explained that, under canon law, while Belczak, 67, may not say Mass, hear confession or perform any other function at St. Thomas More, he remains a priest and is able to say Mass elsewhere. 

“He’s not exercising his office of pastor,” Kohn said.

The archdiocese and Troy police are investigating charges that Belczak took $92,000 in excess of his allotted compensation over the last six years. The pastor allegedly accepted and directed more than $16,000 in funds to himself from parish accounts over the last six years, and he allegedly paid $240,000 to a “ghost employee” over the past six years.

Belczak is accused of fraudulently charging the parish for $26,000 in medical and dental coverage over the last six years. He allegedly authorized a long-term $20,000 disability policy for one parish employee, but not other employees, and allegedly funded the parish travel group as a parish-related activity but did not disclose or report any financials for the group and accepted but not did not deposit to parish accounts $25,000 in commission checks for the group.

He allegedly did not record or deposit funds from special collections for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and allegedly did not record more than $10,000 in cash found in a parish employee’s desk.

Kohn said that according to Catholic Church canon law, Belczak will have a civil hearing with an advocate representing him in the case, which will be heard by a canon lawyer in another Catholic diocese. The Archdiocese of Detroit is the sixth largest diocese in the country, and St. Thomas More is one of five Catholic Churches in Troy.

“He has options,” Kohn with regard to who Belczak’s advocate will be and in which diocese the civil hearing will be held in.

Belczak is not living at St. Thomas More at this time, and Kohn said an advocate for Belczak had not yet been selected and he had no contact information for him.

“The archdiocese is cooperating fully with the Troy police,” Kohn said. “It’s a very unfortunate situation.”

“We are investigating possible improper financial crimes,” Troy police Sgt. Andy Breidenich said. “It’s going to take a while.”

The archdiocese has appointed Monsignor John Zenz, vicar of the Northwest Region and pastor of Holy Name Parish in Birmingham, as administrator of St. Thomas More.

Belczak attended Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, and St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, and was ordained as a priest in 1972. He served as associate pastor and co-pastor at National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak from 1972 until 1980, and as associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington from 1980 to 1984, when he became pastor at St. Thomas More.

His brother, Rev. Tom Belczak, serves as pastor of St. Kenneth Parish in Plymouth, Mich. He could not be reached for comment.

“A pastor disappearing is disorientating,” John Hannigan, parishioner at St. Thomas More, said. “Everybody’s shocked.” He noted that, at press time, the congregation hadn’t met in large groups since the announcement was made Jan. 22. “People have known him for decades and think very highly of him,” Hannigan said. “That hasn’t changed. The investigation is ongoing and still needs to be figured out.

“The people I’ve been speaking to have great confidence in Monsignor Zenz and that the archdiocese will handle this properly,” he added. “The most common expression after sadness and disappointment is asking for prayers for him, the staff and all members of the parish.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Terry Oparka at toparka@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1054.