A Michigan priest has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for stealing $573,000 from his church, reports RNS.
Rev Edward Belczak served St Thomas More Catholic Church in Troy for nearly 30 years. He pleaded guilty on September 1 to embezzlement and is paying back the money he stole.
Belczak is credited with having built up the parish into one of the largest and wealthiest in the archdiocese and his supporters had sent dozens of letters to the judge in the case asking for leniency.
However, Judge Arthur Tarnow said that a prison sentence was appropriate because Belczak was "stealing from the church and people who trusted you most".
Tarnow told him to "choose your friends wisely and you can do some good in prison".
Addressing the court before his sentence, Belczak said that as the leader of a prosperous parish he had wanted a lifestyle like that of his parishioners. He had used stolen church money to gamble on the stock market, he said, and had drunk heavily. "I was selfish and stole money that did not belong to me," Belczak said. "I became a deceiver and a liar."
He admitted: "I have stained the reputation of being a priest" and asked forgiveness of his parishioners.
He said to the judge after hearing his fate: "It's part of my destiny."
Ned McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a statement: "There is a lot of hurt resulting from this crime, a lot of wounded people. We continue to pray for healing at the parish and for all those impacted, including Fr Belczak."
Internal church proceedings will now commence against Belczak which could see him permanently barred from ministry.