The Diocese of Harrisburg has worked closely with the Adams County District Attorney’s Office regarding the misallocation of parish funds by Father Caesar Belchez, former pastor at Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Bonneauville.
All parishes and schools in the Diocese are required to have insurance. The Diocese has been working with the insurance carrier to reimburse the parish for the loss of approximately $385,000. The irregularities are a cause for great concern and distress but have not diminished the work of the parish or diocese.
On July 20, 2011 an investigation of parish finances was begun by the Diocese after being contacted by Fr. Augusty T. Valomchalil, the current pastor, who noticed irregularities in parish accounts. He was assigned to the parish in June, 2011 to replace Fr. Belchez who after serving 5 years in Bonneauville, was named pastor of Saint Joseph Parish, Dallastown.
The Diocese maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward financial malfeasance. Matters of this nature are immediately reported to the civil authorities and followed up with prosecution when warranted, as well as request for restitution.
A preliminary examination of parish records by Diocesan officials was able to confirm that the irregularities were severe enough to warrant additional investigation by civil authorities. On July 28, 2011the Diocese alerted the Office of the Adams County District Attorney and the Pennsylvania State Police about the matter. A subsequent meeting was scheduled and the Diocese’s preliminary investigation results were provided to the civil authorities.
Initially civil authorities requested that the Diocese not confront Fr. Belchez about the matter so as to not compromise the investigation. On November 15, 2011, after being notified by the District Attorney that it was possible to proceed, Bishop Joseph P. McFadden removed Fr. Belchez from Priestly ministry. These include being barred from publicly celebrating Mass or preaching, hearing confession, wearing priestly attire or presenting himself as a priest in good standing in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
During the investigative period, and with the permission of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Diocese retained the services of forensic accounting specialists. These specialists have determined the amount of approximately $385,000 that was misappropriated between 2006 and 2011. This forensic report was provided to the State Police by the Diocese.
Each parish and school in the Diocese is required to maintain adequate insurance that would respond to such a loss. The Diocese of Harrisburg takes very seriously its responsibility in the stewardship of funds contributed by the faithful and uses utmost care in the oversight of the proper use of these funds. For that reason established procedures and controls are in place to ensure that the funds are safeguarded. These include:
- Unannounced financial audits
- Parish Financial Councils
- Strict accounting guidelines
- A series of checks and balances
- Diocesan reviews of parish and school financial performance
No system of controls is perfect and despite our best efforts of financial oversight financial irregularities took place. The Diocese takes very seriously and uses the utmost care of the funds entrusted to it by the faithful of the Diocese. Ultimately the irregularities that took place were discovered through the process of the change of parish administration. Change of administration is not for this purpose but can aid in the discovery of malfeasance.
Father Belchez was ordained a priest in 1995 for the Diocese of Harrisburg. He was assigned to St. Joseph the Worker in 2006. This assignment was the fifth for Fr. Belchez but it was the first where he would have had control of fiscal resources for ministry.
Note: Read Bishop McFadden’s letter, Accountability, Stewardship and Responsibility
Contact: Joe Aponick
(717) 657-4804 x210
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