OMAHA – As expected, a priest who served as Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha has been arrested and charged with two crimes after allegations emerged that he allegedly hijacked a Springfield parish and a priest in the Omaha retreat.
Reverend Michael Gutgsell, who served as Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha from 1994 to 2003 and has served as pastor since then, visited on Friday morning. After a hearing Friday afternoon, a judge ordered the 73-year-old’s release from Douglas County jail on his own pledge. 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 has since removed him from his parish post.
Gutgsell also admitted to taking $ 180,000 from the bank accounts of retired Omaha priest Theodore Richling, according to court documents. Gutgsell told investigators he planned to return the money.
Gutgsell is charged in Douglas County with attempted theft and abuse of a vulnerable adult. This latest charge stemmed from accusations that Gutgsell stole money from Richling when Richling suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was largely incapacitated. Richling passed away in December 2019.
Richling himself has faced allegations of his time at Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha and at a church in Genoa, Nebraska. In 2020, the Archdiocese said an investigation into Richling “led to the justification of several cases of sexual misconduct with minors.”
The two charges Gutgsell faces are felonies punishable by up to three years in prison. He is also expected to face charges in Sarpy County.
Gutgsell was scheduled to appear in Douglas County court Friday afternoon.
Deacon Tim McNeill, the current Chancellor of the Archdiocese, said Gutgsell “made loans” – which were not authorized – during his stay in St. Joseph. McNeill said the Archdiocese recently completed its investigation into the financial records of St. Joseph in Springfield and St. Cecilia in Omaha – two of the parishes Gutgsell served after being chancellor.
Officials found no evidence of financial wrongdoing in St. Cecilia, according to McNeill. In St. Joseph, McNeill said, it is not known how many checks Gutgsell may have written – or how he was able to circumvent typical guarantees requiring a second look at church transactions. The archdiocese continues to investigate these issues, McNeill said.
McNeill released a statement on Friday saying the Archdiocese would have no further comments while Gutgsell’s criminal case is ongoing.