FRANKLIN  — A longtime pastor at a church in the Somerset section of town has resigned after "serious" questions about the church's finances, and issues with his health.

Bishop James F. Checcio will visit St. Matthias on Monday after announcing on Friday that Rev. Douglas J. Haefner had resigned after 27 years at the church. While acknowledging that Haefner's resignation was "surprising," Checchio said the decision was "for the benefit of the parish and school community."

"While I cannot go into details at this time for legal reasons, please know that I am fully committed to getting to the bottom of things and will share additional information as I am able," the Bishop said in a letter to the church community. "Father came to me about his own health problems and these financial issues in recent weeks and has expressed his sorrow for his actions and for letting us all down."

While the church's finances are investigated Haefner's "priestly faculties" have been removed, and he is seeking treatment for undisclosed health problems "which many of you are aware has been in decline recently." The Bishop also announced that Father Abraham Orapankal has been named as the church's temporary administrator. Abraham currently works at St. John Neumann in Califon, according to the letter.

In addition to the removal of Pastor Haefner, the church will also take several steps to "strengthen parish finance accountability." An internal audit started in September, and is ongoing, according to a letter from the church. A forensic audit will "focus on specific financial activity over an extended period of time," according to the letter.

There is no time frame for how long the audit might take. The church was last audited in 2009, and in 2005 before that. The letter said the most recent audits the church was supposed to undergo were delayed due to Haefner's health, but that the parish had still collected financial statements and reports.

According to his profile on the church's website, Haefner came to the church on May 14, 1982 and serves as a "consultant for religious education" for the diocese of Metuchen. He is a native of Milltown, and graduated from North Brunswick High School, before graduating with a bachelors degree in Sacred Theology from St. Mary's Seminary and a Masters of Divinity from the University of Baltimore. He also has a Masters in Education from Boston College.

Before joining the priesthood Haefner was a high school teacher and worked as a police officer in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, according to his profile.

"I understand the suddenness of this announcement is unsettling for many, and that Father Haefner has been so well respected by you over many years," Checchio said. "You are not alone in these feelings; this is heartbreaking to me too. Be assured that you remain in my prayers during this challenging time of transition."

Bishop Checchio is expected to visit the church on Monday at 6:30 p.m.


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