PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A local community is in shock following the arrest of a priest who is accused of stealing church funds.
Westmoreland County detectives have arrested 69-year-old Fr. Emil Stephen Payer.
The former pastor of Seven Dolors Roman Catholic Church in Yukon, Pa., is accused of stealing some $124,000 out of church coffers for personal use.
“We were in good shape, church was in good shape. Then, when Fr. Payer was there it started to go down,” said Thomas Grimm, a parishioner. “And the [next] thing you know we was out of money.”
Grimm was a parishioner for nearly 40 years.
“It really upset me and I didn’t go back. I ain’t been back there in three years,” said Grimm. “You don’t steal from nobody. That’s what he did. He took the money. Where he went with it I don’t know.”
Investigators say starting in May of 2008, Fr. Payer drained church accounts to pay for dozens of personal credit cards, six trips to Rome and mass mailings to recruit people for the junkets.
Authorities say he even charged the parish for mileage for a car he didn’t drive.
Parishioner complaints and a diocese audit lead to the police involvement.
“It’s just wrong,” Grimm said. “I’d like to see him get put away for good.”