Docs: Priest stole at least $213K from 2 churches

Rev. Richard Fritz.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Police reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shed new light on the investigation into a Catholic priest who resigned after an audit found questionable financial transactions.

Documents show an attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo contacted Michigan State Police about possible embezzlement by Rev. Richard Fritz. The Diocese says it started looking into the finances at two churches this spring after hearing about “suspected irregularities.”

The attorney told police that records showed $213,475.60 had been taken from accounts at St. Mary’s Assumption Parish in Bronson and at St. Barbara Mission in Colon since 2010.

Fritz, 69, became pastor of St. Mary’s in 1990 and took on St. Barbara in 1996. The diocese is still looking into the parishes’ finances from before 2010 to see if there was more mismanagement. Records before 2010 were not computerized.

According to the attorney for the Diocese, Fritz admitted to writing himself checks but claimed it was reimbursement for things like medical expenses, vehicle expenses and taking parishioners out to dinner. He claimed to have receipts to prove these expenses, but the attorney says none were ever provided.

The attorney also said he found more than $80,000 in payments Fritz made to the church accounts, which is odd because it’s unusual for a priest to donate or tithe to his own parish. Further investigation found these payments were in the form of checks signed over from the Michigan Lottery. Investigators say Fritz was known to play the lottery.

The Diocese’s attorney told investigators he believed people who worked with Fritz knew about the alleged embezzlement.

Fritz was ordained in May 1975 and previously worked at churches in Battle Creek, Coldwater, Bridgman and South Haven. His longest appointment before becoming pastor at St. Mary’s was five years.