While not all Catholic priests decide to take a vow of poverty when they’re ordained, a priest with a 10-acre estate in Williamston that includes six bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces, three barns, an indoor swimming pool, and stained-glass windows seems pretty suspicious. And that’s just one of his properties. The priest in question has been maintaining (although allegedly not paying taxes on or properly insuring) other properties for his personal use – all allegedly funded by money that was intended for his parish.
Reverend Jonathan Wehrle, who founded St. Martha Church in Okemos, Michigan, has recently been accused of embezzling more than $5 million from his church, and prosecutors are pointing to his vast estate as evidence of the theft. Wehrle allegedly spent $45,000 on an indoor swimming pool, $55,000 on stained-glass windows, and more than $134,000 on landscaping. According to a statement from the police, bills for the construction and landscaping did on the property match checks written from St. Martha.
Lawrence Nolan, the attorney representing Wehrle in the lawsuit, claimed the priest had an agreement with a bishop that allowed Wehrle to use parish money to fund his private residence. Unfortunately, that bishop is no longer living.
But Andrew Stevens, the assistant prosecutor for Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corporation, which insures the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, tells a different story. According to Stevens, Wehrle had maintained almost complete control over the church and its funds since founding it in 1988. Continue reading