Disgraced Priest Fr. Edward Belczak Sentenced to Prison

It’s a story of sin and deception, forgiveness and remorse. On December 1, Father Edward Belczak, former pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for stealing more than half a million dollars from the parish.

Fr. Edward Belczak (Image: Facebook)
Fr. Edward Belczak (Image: Facebook)

But despite Fr. Belczak’s admission of guilt in the case, parishioners and friends have been generous in their support. When the priest was removed from the pastorate in January 2013 as the investigation began, his former parish began a campaign of prayer. After his trial and conviction, more than 50 parishioners, business owners, friends and other priests wrote the judge expressing their hope that the popular priest might receive a light sentence. Several hundred people showed their support on Facebook via a special “Fr. Edward Belczak Support Page.” According to the Detroit Free Press,

“They describe the 70-year-old priest as a compassionate, inspiring force. His humiliation — and how the Archdiocese of Detroit has banned him from performing public church services — is punishment enough, some suggest.”

After the sentence was read, a number of supporters–including several of his brother priests–stopped to give Fr. Belczak a hug.

It was a perfect example of how Christians ought to respond to a fallen brother: not, as so often occurs on social media, with flame-throwing and condemnation, but with love and acceptance and forgiveness.

I, too, remember Fr. Belczak with fondness. During my tenure as director of special events at Guest House, I often saw Fr. Belczak at our charitable dinners and events. He was pastor for thirty years of one of the largest and wealthiest parishes in Oakland County; and he was a cordial, joy-filled priest, well liked by his peers. While I never heard him preach, he enjoyed a reputation as a gifted homilist and a compassionate friend to parishioners who needed to talk.

Following his conviction, Father Belczak had pleaded with U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow for mercy–citing scripture, and admitting that the embarrassment and humiliation which followed his arrest and his removal from public ministry had caused him to have suicidal thoughts. The judge, though, noting that Fr. Belczak was a community leader who was “stealing from the church and people who trusted you most,” insisted that a prison sentence was necessary to act as a deterrent to others. Judge Tarnow suggested that he “choose your friends wisely and you can do some good in prison.”

Upon hearing his sentence, Fr. Belczak responded simply, “It’s part of my destiny.” He asked the forgiveness of his parishioners, and apologized for “staining the reputation of the priesthood.”

The 70-year-old priest will spend the next two years and three months in prison. He also is working to make restitution, repaying $573,000 of the stolen funds.

Read more about the sentencing hearing in the Detroit Free Press.

And read my earlier post about the charges here. I also wrote about his brother Fr. Thomas Belczak, pastor of St. Kenneth parish in Plymouth, MI. Father Tom was also questioned as part of the investigation, but was cleared of any wrongdoing.

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Now that’s a good story. Hopefully he can pastor while in prison and change souls. Now that would turn evil into a good.

  • http://www.josephkarlpublishing.com/ Michele Bondi Bottesi

    There’s enough disgrace in this area to go around from Christ’s professed Catholic leaders on down; how odd that the focus of the article is on only one man. There is so much idolatry and lusting after other people’s resources in the name of charity here that some can’t afford to go to Church to actually worship God and care for others properly, it has become too predatory. It has been this shameful way for decades and is getting even worse. Only God can pull us out of this self serving mess inspired personally by Lucifer to destroy Christ’s Catholic Church, His priests, and His people from the inside out. Let us beg Him to begin from within. “By My Holy Face you will work WONDERS.” ~ Jesus Christ +

    • hopeforeurope

      Take heart. The Church can never be destroyed. We are certainly experiencing unbelievable persecutions but the wheat must be separated from the chaff in order for the Church to be purified. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said ” the Church will become smaller but holy”.

      • Korou

        What persecution is the Catholic Church experiencing?

        • hopeforeurope

          The clerical abuse scandal, which thankfully is being dealt with inasmuch as those asking to be admitted to seminaries are vetted psychologically. Modernists who have for years watered down the faith resulting in the secularisation of 2 generations of Catholics, the progressives who now want Church Teaching changed to acquiesce those living in sin through adultery or homosexual unions. Not to mention the pro-life battle to save unborn children.

          • Korou

            None of that constitutes persecution in any way.
            The clerical abuse scandal is not the Church being persecuted, it’s the Church having it’s crimes uncovered.
            Watering down the faith may or may not be a problem for the Church, but it’s not a form of persecution. Nor is changing Church doctrine; nobody is forcing the Church to do anything, they’re free to believe whatever they wish. Abortion is not persecution of the Church, although Catholics could of course argue that it’s persecution of the unborn; that, however, would be a different discussion.

          • hopeforeurope

            I beg to differ. Any form of action that defies Church Teaching is a form of persecution for faithful Catholics.

          • Korou

            To say that is to broaden the meaning of the word persecution so as to render it meaningless. In a world in which people are forbidden to practice their religion on pain of death or imprisonment, saying that you are being persecuted just makes you look silly. Particularly when you claim that the Church is enduring “unbelievable persecution.” Right now the Church is in a very, very good position, rich and respected; the only problem is that people are just becoming less and less interested in what it has to say. That’s not persecution, that’s just a failure on the Church’s part.

          • hopeforeurope

            Fine. If you consider me a fool then I will be a fool for Christ any day!

          • Korou

            Unfortunately that’s not what the word fool means either.

          • hopeforeurope

            I take it you are not Catholic judging by your attitude to others. I will not be replying to anymore of your FOOLISH comments.

          • Korou

            Sorry to have been persecuting you.

          • hopeforeurope

            In this case I forgive you.

  • mickey40

    That parishoners should surround and support a woman that chose to abort.
    Or, how about picketing the criminal priest? They pick and choose the criminals to support.

  • Dave Snyder

    The interesting part of the article to me was the actions of his congregation after he was found guilty. Yes we are supposed to forgive but how far are we to go? In the case of the clerical abuse scandal I believe that Catholics went to too far in forgiving their priests and in particular their bishops for the cover up and moving these predatory priests from one parish to another. The cover up was so clever that very few could identify with the injustice. But, the Bishops knew — Didn’t they??

    • kathyschiffer

      Well, this article isn’t about the clergy abuse scandal, so I don’t want to go too far down that road. I will say, though, that the bishops at the time had consulted with psychological experts who counseled the priests and reported that they were “healed” and ready to go back to work. I’ve always thought that it was these so-called “experts” who failed, and the fact that the bishops were tarred and feathered for taking the advice of the professionals they’d hired has always seemed unfair.

      • Dave Snyder

        Actually Kathy we are kind of getting to my point. The priest may “have been healed and ready to go back to work.” BUT Did the Bishops ever think about the children in the next parish ???? At the time, when the parents complained, few if any bishops believed them; or if they did they did not recognize the seriousness of the CRIME !! Only later did they come to realize how much the victims have suffered (so they say). This is the criminal action of the Bishops IMO. They cared more for the priests than they did for the flock that God gave them the duty to defend.

      • Korou

        A striking contrast to today, when the catholic church sets itself firmly against the psychological community.