Priest accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Westmoreland County parish

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A Roman Catholic priest was arraigned today on charges he stole thousands of dollars across three years from a Westmoreland County church where he served as pastor.

The Rev. Emil Payer, 69, surrendered today and waived his right to a preliminary hearing on theft charges and related crimes. He was released on a non-monetary bond.

His attorney, Thomas Merrick, declined to comment on the case.

Father Payer is accused of stealing from Seven Dolors Catholic Parish in South Huntingdon, where he took over as pastor in October 2008. In April 2011, the Diocese of Greensburg ordered an audit of parish finances after churchgoers expressed concerns about accounts. Father Payer continued pastoral duties but another priest took over parish business.

By August, Father Payer was placed on administrative leave in the wake of a budding criminal investigation.

Westmoreland County detectives wrote in a criminal complaint that the parish was "financially stable" when Father Payer took over, with between $65,000 and $70,000 in the general operating account.

A little more than a year later, it contained between $1,000 and $1,500, they wrote.

"Once Fr. Payer came he began to spend money from the parish accounts at a rapid pace," the complaint continues. The parish secretary "also had a difficult time paying bills" because that account "was being depleted."

Ordained in 1971, Father Payer is a Duquesne University graduate and had previously served as pastor at St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church in Penn Township and St. John the Baptist Church in Scottdale.

The Rev. Jonathan J. Wisneski was appointed administrator of Seven Dolors Parish in March 2012.


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