Updated: St. Matthias’ ‘Fr. Doug’ Resigns Amid ‘Serious Questions’ About Church Finances

St. Matthias’ Fr. Douglas Haefner, center, resigned last week amid questions surrounding church finances. (File photo).

Update: The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the matter, according to Det. Jeanne Trillhaase, the SCPO spokeswoman.

She said the office “can’t provide details since the investigation is active and ongoing.”

In a Nov. 5 meeting with parishioners, Metuchen Diocese Bishop James Checchio said that Fr. Doug, as he is known, admitted to “borrowing” approximately $500,000 from church coffers.

That number is as yet unsubstantiated, Diocese spokeswoman Erin Friedlander said in an email, “as our audit process still is underway.

Asked whether Fr. Haefner’s actions will have any affect on the church’s financial stability, Friendlander wrote, “Saint Matthias is one of our largest parishes – with over 3,200 registered families, many ministries and a beautiful school with 423 students in pre-k to grade 8 – that is well regarded in the local community and beyond. Surely this situation will present challenges for parishioners to overcome; however, it is a strong, vibrant and engaged faith community.”

Original Story: “Serious questions” about church finances and declining health have prompted the Rev. Douglas Haefner to resign from his position at St. Matthias Church, according to an announcement from the Bishop of the Metuchen Diocese.

Fr. Doug, as he is known, has presided over St. Matthias, located on John F. Kennedy Boulevard, for the past 27 years, and has suffered from serious heart issues over the past several years.

In a Nov. 2 letter to parishioners, Bishop James F. Checchio wrote that “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. While I cannot go into details at this time for legal reasons, please know that I am fully committed to getting to the bottom of things and will share additional information, as I am able.”

Checchio wrote that Fr. Haefner “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.”

The Bishop wrote that Fr. Haefner will seek treatment for his health issues.

“Although surprising, Father’s decision to step down at this time is for the benefit of the parish and the school community,” the Bishop wrote.

A separate release explaining the Diocese’s financial operations noted that although parishes are required to file yearly financial reports, parishes undergo regular audits on an irregular basis; the last time the parish finances were audited was in 2009 and before that, 2005.

The St. Matthias parish’s latest audit began earlier this year, according to the release.

“Because of serious questions and concerns that have surfaced, this process now will involve a more comprehensive forensic audit, which will focus on specific financial activity over an extended period of time,” according to the release. “The completion time is unknown.”

“At the time the most recent audits were to take place at Saint Matthias, the Diocese accommodated the pastor’s multiple requests to reschedule, due to serious health issues he was experiencing,” the release said. “The Diocese, however, still collected and reviewed the parish’s Annual Financial Statement and Report submitted by the parish. The Trustees did sign-off on the submissions of the past several years.”

Bishop Checchio said in his letter that Fr. Abraham Orapankal, pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Califon, will assume temporary duties as St. Matthias’ pastor when he returns from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Fr. Orapankal is expected to remain in that role through the summer of 2019, according to the letter.

Until Fr. Orapankal’s return, Bishop Checchio wrote that Msgr. John Fell, from the Diocese’s office of priest personnel, will fill in, the letter said.

The Bishop also said in his letter that he will meet with any parishioners who wish to do so at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the church.


This is a developing story. More information will be added as it is obtained.


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