The longtime pastor of a New Jersey Catholic church has stepped down after officials say he “borrowed” $500,000 from his church’s coffers to fund “compulsive behaviors,” according to reports.
The Rev. Douglas Haefner resigned last week as pastor of Saint Matthias Parish in Franklin Township, Somerset County, a position he had held for 27 years.
“Although surprising, Father’s decision to step down at this time is for the benefit of the parish and school community,” Bishop James Checchio wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to parishioners.
Checchio told a crowd of about 200 parishioners during a Monday evening address that a few weeks ago, when Haefner went to visit him in his office, the pastor confessed, “I need help,” according to local news site TAPinto.net.
Checchio recalled how Haefner, 66, added: “I’ve been sick. My physical but also emotional problems that I’ve been struggling with are feeding off each other. Some of my emotional problems have led to compulsive behavior on my part, and the compulsive behavior cost money … I borrowed money from the parish,” the site reported.
Haefner then admitted the amount he had taken from the church could be as much as $500,000, according to Checchio.
“Law enforcement don’t even want me to say who is investigating,” Checchio told the site.
The Diocese of Metuchen is in the process of conducting a forensic audit of the parish — and diocese spokeswoman Erin Friedlander confirmed to NJ.com that law enforcement is probing the missing dough.
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