The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
Douglas Haefner, pastor of St. Matthias Church in Somerset, New Jersey, stands accused of stealing $500,000 from the church he faithfully pastored for twenty-seven years.
(Haefner) came to see me in my office, and he said, ‘I need help 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.
In a letter to the 3,250 families on the roll at St Mathias, Checchio wrote:
It is with sadness that I must inform you that Father’s resignation coincides with serious questions and concerns that recently have been raised regarding the handling of parish finances. Father came to me about his own health problems and these financial issues in recent weeks and has expressed his sorrow for his actions and for letting us all down.
Astoundingl, the finances at St. Mathias have not been audited since 2009. According to church law, St. Mathias should have had an active priest-appointed financial council that met at least quarterly to review the church’s budget and prepare its annual report. The financial council hasn’t been active in years. This left the fox in the hen house — Father Haefner — with the duty to prepare the church’s annual financial reports. What could go wrong, right?
The allegations against Heaefner are being investigated by local law enforcement.
An attorney for Haefner, Matthew Adams, released the following statement on behalf of his client:
To know Father Doug is to know a caring man who has spent decades ministering to parishioners from all walks of life, including during times of extreme peril. Father Doug has indeed stepped back from his public ministry to address serious health issues. It is quite unfortunate that, as he steps out of the public, some have used the opportunity to violate the confidentiality that, as a matter of law, attaches to those health-related issues. With respect to the allegations being leveled against him, Father Doug enjoys the same constitutional presumption of innocence as any other citizen.