A Catholic priest from the Diocese of Metuchen pleads guilty to stealing parish funds; SNAP responds

A Catholic priest from the Diocese of Metuchen admitted to stealing $516,000 from his parish yesterday, but his Bishop still lauded this pastor's work. We feel that the Bishop's remarks show a double standard. 

Fr. Douglas Haefner claims that 'compulsive behavior' is why he stole more than $516,000 from funds donated by the very people placed into his spiritual care. The priest pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree theft and awaits sentencing on August 4th.

We were shocked to read Bishop James Cheechio's letter to the parishioners of Fr. Haefners' former parish, St Matthias. In his letter, the Bishop mentioned the excellent work of the priest and the fondness many had for their former pastor. Most disturbingly, Bishop Cheechio also wrote that 'love does not allow us to ignore, or worse, cover up challenges that come our way.'

In what seems to us to be a double standard, the bishop appears to have forgotten that the Diocese covered up for abusive clergy for many years and apparently still seeks to minimize the problem. In faded print at the bottom of their list of abusers, the notorious former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, once a priest in Metuchen, is only noted as having 'credible and substantiated allegations' against him in the Archdiocese of New York.

Although this case is not related to sexual misconduct, it still raises some of the same issues and fears for us.  We are concerned about the struggles Fr. Haefner shared with Bishop Checchio privately and the admission of 'compulsive behavior' that this priest shared in court. More likely than not, the Diocese of Metuchen will never divulge the details because the Catholic Church has perfected the art of secrecy.  However, we cannot help to wonder what is being hidden, and whether it is something that parishioners and the public should know. The Church has consistently shown that they care more about their reputation and their money than they do about the safety of the faithful and the surrounding community.

We hope that parishioners in the Diocese of Metuchen will take from this case some of the hard-earned lessons of abuse survivors. It is discouraging to watch a Bishop be so kind and forgiving when it is one of the clergy who struggles or commits a crime. Victims of Catholic clergy abuse rarely receive the same concern from the Church.

Perhaps someday survivors will be treated with the same care and compassion.

CONTACT:  Mark Crawford, SNAP New Jersey ([email protected]), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager (267-261-0578 [email protected]) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009 [email protected])

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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