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Omaha-area priest accused of embezzling $280,000 is charged with 2 felonies
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Omaha-area priest accused of embezzling $280,000 is charged with 2 felonies

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OMAHA -- As expected, a priest who served as chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha has been arrested and charged with two felonies after allegations emerged that he embezzled from a parish in Springfield and from a retired Omaha priest.

The Rev. Michael Gutgsell, who served as chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese from 1994 to 2003 and has served as a parish priest since then, turned himself in Friday morning. After a hearing Friday afternoon, a judge ordered the 73-year-old to be released from the Douglas County Jail on his own recognizance. Prosecutors did not object.

According to court documents, Gutgsell admitted to taking $106,000 from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Springfield, where he has spent the past few years. The Archdiocese of Omaha since has removed him from his duties at the parish.

Gutgsell also admitted to taking $180,000 from the bank accounts of retired Omaha priest Theodore Richling, according to the court documents. Gutgsell told investigators he had planned to pay the money back.

Gutgsell is charged in Douglas County with attempted theft and abuse of a vulnerable adult. The latter charge stemmed from accusations that Gutgsell stole money from Richling while Richling was suffering from Alzheimer's and was largely incapacitated. Richling died in December 2019.

Richling faced allegations of his own from his time at Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha and at a church in Genoa, Nebraska. In 2020, the archdiocese said an investigation of Richling "led to the substantiation of multiple instances of sexual misconduct with minors."

Both charges Gutgsell is facing are felonies punishable by up to three years in prison. He is expected to face charges in Sarpy County as well.

Gutgsell was scheduled to appear Friday afternoon in Douglas County Court.

Deacon Tim McNeill, the current chancellor of the archdiocese, has said Gutgsell "wrote loans to himself" — which weren't authorized — during his time at St. Joseph. McNeill said the archdiocese recently completed its investigation into the financial records of both St. Joseph in Springfield and St. Cecilia in Omaha — two of the parishes Gutgsell served after serving as chancellor.

Officials found no evidence of financial wrongdoing at St. Cecilia, according to McNeill. At St. Joseph, McNeill said, it's not clear how many checks Gutgsell was able to write to himself — or how he was able to bypass typical safeguards requiring a second set of eyes on church transactions. The archdiocese is continuing to investigate those matters, McNeill said.

Friday, McNeill issued a statement saying that the archdiocese would not have further comment while Gutgsell’s criminal case is pending.

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