Priest who stole money from Catholic church sentenced to 7 years in prison
A Catholic priest who admitted to transferring nearly $517,000 of parish funds into his personal bank account had been sentenced to seven years in state prison, church officials said.
Fr Douglas J. Haefner, the longtime pastor of St. Matthias Parish in Somerset, New Jersey, Haefner, 68, was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Peter Tober in Somerset County under a plea agreement, Diocese of Metuchen officials said.
The Diocese of Metuchen recently partnered with a third party to allow anyone who suspects financial impropriety in the Diocese of Metuchen or in any of its parishes, schools or cemeteries, to file an anonymous and confidential report.
In 2018, Fr Haefner admitted that they took the funds during an audit. Diocese of Metuchen officials stated in a pre-written letter that Haefner blames the act on “Compulsive behaviour” and that the priest intended to pay it back over time. He pleaded guilty in May.
It remains unclear how Fr Haefner successfully transferred the funding into a private account without anyone noticing. Diocese officials say they noticed financial issues as early as 2016, but Fr Haefner repeatedly requested to reschedule due to health issues. When the audit began in 2018, Fr Haefner admitted to the theft and handed the case to local law enforcement.
Before his conviction, Fr Haefner had overseen his church for 27 years. Fr Haefner is scheduled to begin his sentence on 19th August. However, he has applied for the state’s Intensive Supervised Parole program, which would allow him to fulfil his sentence from home.
“This is not an easy day for anyone,” Anthony P. Kearns, 3rd chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, told New Jersey News, “While we are grateful this matter has come to its conclusion and justice has been served, there are no winners in the outcome of this unfortunate case.”
Kearns asked for prayers for the priest and the St. Matthias Parish community.
(Picture Courtesy: M.Lyons)