Priest Goes to Rehab After Gambling Away More Than $1 Million Including Loans from Parishioners

A former Swiss priest will go to rehab after losing more than $1 million to gambling debts, including money loaned to him by some 50 parishioners.

The man, whose name wasn't disclosed, was forced to resign from his religious duties under Switzerland’s Diocese of Chur, accused of abusing his position as a priest to secure loans from unsuspecting churchgoers to fund his addiction. According to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the disgraced vicar’s debts amounted to 1.4 million Swiss francs ($1.1 million).

Although church authorities were long aware of the former priest’s gambling problem, they did not warn parishioners about the issue. Instead, the diocese offered him help to address the addiction before it got out of hand. Swiss media have reported that several church members are considering pressing charges as a result, but until now, no cases have been filed.

In June, the man refused orders from the diocese to enter therapy, deciding to travel to Russia for the World Cup instead. This led church authorities to finally take disciplinary action and remove him from his post.

However, despite some parishioners being outraged by the priest's actions, others have jumped to the man’s defense. He was apparently quite popular with his congregation, having served the Küssnacht parish on Lake Lucerne for more than two decades. An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched by some churchgoers, aiming to help the man repay his debts.

While some may see gambling as a vice or compulsion, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) considers gambling addiction to be a serious condition. The latest edition of the APA’s official manual classifies pathological gambling in the same chapter as other addictions, Scientific American reported.

"A gambler who is about to make a bet, and a cocaine addict who is about to take a hit of cocaine, experience similar brain patterns," Sam Skolnik, author of High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America's Gambling Addiction, told New York Daily News in March 2013.

"Gambling for normal people is about entertainment, but for gambling addicts, it's about survival," Timothy Fong, professor of psychiatry at the University of California—Los Angeles and co-director of the school's gambling addiction program, told the New York paper. "These people aren't at the casino to have fun. They're there to win big—and they won't let a loss stop them from gambling."

GettyImages-978884376 This picture taken on June 6, 2018 shows a student practicing blackjack at the Japan Casino School in Tokyo MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images

The Swiss man isn’t the first priest to struggle with an addiction to gambling either. William Dombrow, a Catholic clergyman in Philadelphia, was found guilty of stealing more than $535,000 from an unauthorized Philadelphia Archdiocese account in April of last year, CBS Philly reported. A judged sentenced the 78-year-old to eight months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

“Monsignor Dombrow is extremely remorseful and is extremely upset with his conduct,” said his attorney, Coley Reynolds, according to the local television station. “He looks forward to serving his sentence, and continuing to serve the community.”

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