Bishop's Letter to Saint Matthias Parishioners and School Families

The following is a letter from Bishop Checchio to Saint Matthias Parishioners and School Families, regarding the resignation of their pastor, Fr. Douglas J. Haefner, also available as a PDF:

November 2, 2018

Dear Saint Matthias Parishioners and School Families,

          It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you that Rev. Douglas J. Haefner, this week resigned as pastor of Saint Matthias Parish, Somerset – a position he has held for the past 27 years. As I heard and witnessed during my several visits to your beautiful parish over the past two years, so many of you are grateful for Father Haefner’s many contributions over the past decades. Although surprising, Father's decision to step down at this time is for the benefit of the parish and school community.

          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 I am fully committed to getting to the bottom of things and will share additional information, as I am able. Father 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. As per our established practice, I have withdrawn Father Haefner’s priestly faculties while the matter is being looked into. Father Haefner will seek treatment in a committed effort to regain his health, which many of you are aware has been in decline recently. I ask you to join me in prayer for Father’s wellbeing.

          To care for the parish and school community in the coming months, I am appointing Fr. Abraham Orapankal as your temporary administrator. Father Abraham is currently the pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Califon. I consider him to be a holy priest, a devoted pastor, and a talented man, loved by his parishioners. At my request, Father Abraham has graciously agreed to leave his own beloved parish community and come to journey with you as you grow closer to the Lord even through the troubles you now experience. For this, I am most grateful. Father will be on pilgrimage to the Holy Land over the next couple weeks, so Msgr. John Fell, Director of Priest Personnel for the Diocese and Episcopal Vicar for Health Care will fill in until Father Abraham’s return. As an expression of my closeness to you during this time, I will come to the parish hall on Monday, November 5 at 6:30 p.m. for a pastoral visit with those of you who would like to attend.

          Father Abraham will be with you until the summertime; the months that Father will spend with you will also allow me to carefully reflect upon and pray about the person who is best suited to serve as the next pastor of St. Matthias Parish. Be assured that I will seek out your advice as well as that of my diocesan advisors in making this important selection, and will entrust this all to much prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

          I understand the suddenness of this announcement is unsettling for many, and that Father Haefner has been so well respected by you over many years. You are not alone in these feelings; this is heartbreaking to me too. Be assured you remain in my prayers during this challenging time of transition. I ask you to pray for me, too, as you pray for Father Doug and welcome Fr. Abraham to your wonderful parish.

          With renewed best wishes, I remain

          Yours in Christ,

          Most Reverend James F. Checchio 
          Bishop of Metuchen

Diocese announces parish audit underway in wake of pastor resignation, emphasizes ongoing commitment to strengthen parish finance accountability

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Somerset, NJ ▪ Nov. 2, 2018 – The resignation this week of Rev. Douglas J. Haefner as pastor of Saint Matthias Parish, Somerset coincides with serious questions and concerns regarding the handling of parish finances. The Diocese of Metuchen is in the process of conducting a forensic audit of the parish. As per normal practice, Bishop James F. Checchio has withdrawn Father Haefner’s priestly faculties while the matter is being evaluated. While much is unknown at this point, the bishop has pledged that the diocese will accompany the parish through this process. The following is an overview of the parish finance structure, for those who may want to know more about how this aspect of parish operations is handled.

Role & Functions of Parish Finance Council

  • As required by church law, all parishes of the Diocese of Metuchen must have an active Finance Council. The Diocese provides direction as well as a set of Guidelines for a Parish Finance Council to all parishes, which also is available on the diocesan website.
  • A Parish Finance Council is usually comprised of at least five (5) active parishioners, to assist the pastor in the development and management of the parish’s financial resources so that the parish may effectively pursue its mission of spreading Christ’s Gospel and love. It is recommended that Council members meet at least quarterly.
  • The Finance Council members’ responsibilities include preparing the annual budget, reviewing quarterly reports and parish’s adherence to prepared budget, and preparing an annual Financial Statement and Report for the Bishop of Metuchen and for members of the parish community.

Role of the Diocese in Parish Finances

  • Each parish is considered to be a “corporation,” with the pastor serving as secretary/treasurer. The Bishop serves as president of each corporation (parish). And two laypersons from the parish serve as trustees, assisting the pastor with financial oversight.
  • The Diocese of Metuchen requires all parishes prepare and submit an Annual Financial Statement and Report. Each year, on or before August 31, all 90 parishes are to submit a balance sheet with assets and liabilities along with a statement of revenue and expenditures, which are first to be reviewed and signed by the parish Trustees (usually two lay people) and then forwarded to the Diocesan Office of Finance for further review.
  • Routine audits of the 90 parishes of the Diocese of Metuchen are conducted periodically. The Diocese has an Internal Auditing Office responsible for going out to parishes and schools to examine procedures and internal controls in each parish. Financial results are shared with the parish and recommendations are made, when appropriate.

Internal Audit Process: Saint Matthias, Somerset

  • The Diocese of Metuchen began to conduct a routine internal audit in late-September 2018, which still is underway, to examine procedures and internal controls of the parish and school.
  • 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. The completion time is unknown.
  • The last audit at Saint Matthias took place in July 2009; before that, one was conducted in 2005.
  • 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 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.
  • The Diocese had already begun to strengthen its auditing process, moving to a two or three year cycle.