St. Matthias Interim Priest To Stay On Until Predecessor’s Criminal Finance Probe Concluded

The interim priest serving the Catholic Community of St. Matthias will stay on until the criminal probe involving the church’s former spiritual leader is concluded.

It was originally thought that Fr. Abraham Orapankal, who assumed the temporary leadership position near the end of 2018 – after the resignation of Fr. Douglas Haefner – would only serve through the summer of 2019.

But in a July 19, 2019 letter to the parish, Diocese of Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio wrote that Fr. Abraham would stay on at St. Matthias “until such time as there is a legal disposition and conclusion to this unfortunate matter.”

Checchio wrote that although it had been six months since he last communicated with the parish, “I am unable to share with you much more than the fact that there is an ongoing investigation.”

Fr. Doug, as he is known, helmed St. Matthias for more than 27 years when he suddenly retired in late 2018 over what were called “serious questions” over how he handled the church’s finances.

In a Nov. 5, 2018 meeting with parishioners, Bishop Checchio said that Fr. Doug had admitted to “borrowing” at least $500,000 from church coffers.

In his July 19 letter, Checchio told the parish that the church’s finances have been audited and that all documentation has been submitted to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, which is conducting the investigation.

“There are many records over several years to review, and that is the reason for the length of time for the investigation,” he wrote. “We intend to accept the findings of the prosecutor and cooperate in any way that leads to the fair and just resolution of this matter.”

Checchio also asked parishioners not to listen to “gossip or hearsay” about how much money was involved or for what the money was used.

Haefner, he said, “has undergone an evaluation and is continuing in treatment as he awaits the prosecutor’s investigation.”

“He feels great remorse and is sorry for what happened,” Checchio wrote of Haefner. “Nevertheless, the Diocese will continue to fully and completely cooperate with the Somerset County Prosecutor and we look forward to his findings,” Checchio wrote.

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