Pa. Priest Sentenced for Taking $380K from Parish

A Roman Catholic priest in central Pennsylvania will serve 11½ to 23 months behind bars for stealing more than $380,000 from his parish.

Authorities say 52-year-old former pastor Caesar Belchez transferred more than $190,000 from various accounts at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Bonneauville to an online stock account and more than $120,000 to a personal account.

Belchez is accused of taking the money between 2006 and 2011 while he was pastor at Saint Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Bonneauville, according to prosecutors.

Adams County Judge Michael George also ordered Belchez at Thursday's hearing to make full restitution and serve 12 years of probation. He is eligible for work release while serving his sentence.

Belchez pleaded guilty in February to theft and access device fraud. He apologized for his actions before the sentencing.

Joseph Aponick, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, said Belchez has been removed from all ministry. He said Belchez's past actions and crimes makes a return to ministry unlikely, according to WHTM-TV.

"In the case of his sentence, we have not asked for leniency but simply that his cooperation and contrition be taken into account," Aponick said in a statement. "Justice must be served and in a spirit of forgiveness we stand ready to support him spiritually."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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