Catholic Priest Confesses To Stealing $741,000 From His Congregation

Many Catholic churchgoers are expected to donate some of their income in order to support the church they attend and show their devotion to the religion. However, no churchgoer would expect the Catholic priest leading the congregation to be secretly pocketing some of that money for himself. But that’s exactly what one Catholic priest in France did. and he admitted he had been stealing from his church followers for more than 25 years.

According to a report from Reuters, René Heuillet, an 80-year-old Catholic priest from the Pyrenean mountain village of Saint-Lizier, is headed to court after it was revealed he had stolen roughly 700,000 euros, or $741,000, from various churchgoers. Heuillet confessed that he was taking portions of the regular church collections starting all the way back in 1987, and only ending when the Catholic priest retired in 2013. He also stole 100,000 euros from congregants who purchased votive candles from the church, which are intended to be lit as an offering during Christian prayer.

Prayer candles Votive candles [Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]It seems Father René Heuillet may have gotten away with the shocking crime if his theft hadn’t been noticed by the Catholic priest who succeeded him. A statement from the authorities claimed that Heuillet’s successor brought the issue to light with the police, stunning local churchgoers who had no idea their money was going straight into the wallet of their Catholic priest, rather than going to improve the church and the community.

Upon further investigation, 656,000 euros were found in the bank account of the Catholic priest, confirming the allegations. René Heuillet spent very little of the stolen money before he was caught. Public prosecutor Karline Bouisset revealed in a statement from Foix, France, that police have placed a freeze on the Catholic priest’s funds to keep him from spending any more until the origin of the money is verified.

The Catholic priest reportedly confessed to the theft when confronted. He is scheduled to go on trial next year on January 16.

According to La-Croix, the situation is actually even worse than it sounds. They claim that it wasn’t simply a wayward Catholic priest slipping extra cash into his pocket from time to time, they described the crime as “systematic embezzlement.” After Heuillet left the church for health reasons, the diocese of Pamiers filed an official complaint, which launched the investigation.

Catholic priest Catholic priests. [Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]Bishop Jean-Marc Eychenne, the Bishop of Pamiers, sent a message to other Catholic priests in the diocese condemning the actions of René Heuillet, which he called a “sad testimony.” He also asked other priests to be vigilant against corruption like this. He declared that a Catholic priest should be giving, not taking, because their mission is to “serve and not to use. “

A similar story took place only a few months ago in Southeast Kansas. A Catholic priest named Father Thomas Leland was charged with defrauding two parishes of more than $150,000. Unlike René Heuillet, Father Leland spent a lot of the stolen money on his gambling addiction. Also unlike Heuillet, Leland willingly turned himself in, instead of the crime being discovered by the next Catholic priest in line.

What do you think about René Heuillet’s admitted theft? What would you do if you found out your church leader or Catholic priest had been stealing from you for a quarter of a century?

For another shocking story about a religious leader who abused his power at the head of the church, read about the Christian pastor in Mexico who spent for years repeatedly raping two underage sisters who had enlisted to help him with chores around the building.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]