Michigan Priest Possibly Sets New Dollar Record for Theft by U.S. Clergy

Stories about thieving clergy members are truly a dime a dozen, but among that deeply disreputable crowd, the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle is special.

That’s because his loot doesn’t top out at a few thousand dollars, or even a few hundred thousand. Wehrle, his accusers say, five-fingered millions of dollars of parish money and spent it on luxuries like an indoor swimming pool for his mansion and six figures’ worth of landscaping for his lavish ten-acre estate.

A Catholic priest accused of embezzling more than $5 million from his central Michigan church spent about $100,000 on an indoor swimming pool and stained glass windows for his six-bedroom, 12-bathroom home, according to a lawsuit seeking to recoup some of the money.

In addition to the $45,000 indoor pool and nearly $55,000 in stained glass windows, the Rev. Jonathan Wehrle spent more than $134,000 on landscaping at his 10-acre estate in Williamston and other properties, according to the lawsuit filed by Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corporation, which insures the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.

As the thefts may be going back almost three decades, the diocese seems to have done a piss-poor job of overseeing and curtailing its priests (par for the course when it comes to crimes and the Catholic Church).

The accused’s lawyer says there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Wehrle’s defense attorney, Lawrence Nolan, said the pastor had family money and an agreement with a bishop, now deceased, to use parish funds for a private residence.

Wehrle will have his day in court over the summer. If the charges are true, and he stole five million bucks, that’s surely some sort of record for a parish priest. So who does Wehrle think he is — the president of the Vatican Bank?

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P.S. Maybe Wehrle was simply styling his home after the sparkling mansions of the average American archbishop. CNN has a photo gallery of the monsignors’ abodes that would probably have Jesus rampaging through the temple all over again. Or perhaps the Michigan padre took his cue from Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, a bishop in Germany who, five years ago, was found to have spent $42 million of church money on sprucing up his pad.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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