Church thefts on the rise

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SOUTH HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KAKE) -

The Reno County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a South Hutchinson Priest for possible financial crimes.  This as the former executive director of Interfaith Ministries receives his sentence for embezzlement.  Just two more examples of a growing problem with church theft around the world.

“It’s huge,” Maria Vierheller said when she learned about the investigation into a South Hutchinson priest.  “It’s saying less about the money and more about the morals and the core values of a human.  It’s hard to believe, for me.”

Vierheller finds it difficult to think of a priest or minister stealing from their own church.

She lives in Reno County, where the Sheriff’s office is investigating a local priest for financial crimes.  The potential victim?  The Diocese of Wichita.

In an emailed statement, the Diocese said it noticed “what appeared to be suspicious financial irregularities” in a South Hutchinson parish and called the local authorities.

“It’s hard to believe that someone who’s willing to sacrifice so much to live this life would be willing to gamble it away so quickly,” Vierheller said about the idea of a priest stealing from the church.

The same day news broke of the investigation in Reno County, a Sedgwick County judge sentenced the former executive director of Interfaith Ministries to five years probation for embezzling more than $100,000 from the Unity of Wichita Church.

“We’ve all made mistakes and anything’s possible.  Never say never.  We never know what somebody’s going through in general.  However, when we’re speaking about somebody that’s taken a vow to God and his community to preach the Word of God, when you take a vow to live that life, you don’t take it lightly,” Vierheller said.

According to Brotherhood Mutual, which insures churches around the country, cases of church theft are growing by 6% every year.  The culprits are both lay persons and ordained clergy.  The losses are on track to add up to $80 billion stolen through fraud and embezzlement by 2025.

As much as 80% of fraud cases go unreported, perhaps because churches are afraid of giving Christianity a bad name, making them easy targets.

Maria Vierheller says, despite the investigation in her county, her faith remains unshaken. 

“I believe in the Catholic Church, still,” she said.  “It’s hard for me to think of a priest in a negative light.”