A California priest’s alleged history of theft from his parishes was uncovered when he got into a car crash and bags filled with thousands of dollars were found inside.
According to reports, Father Oscar Diaz of Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa, California, was involved in a car accident on June 19 this year. He suffered a fractured hip and underwent surgery, though is said to be recovering from the operation.
However, as emergency services came to the scene of the incident, they found almost $20,000 in stolen parish donations stuffed into six security bags, though that wasn’t all he had apparently stolen.
A further investigation by police discovered Diaz had a stash of around $77,000 in cash, which he had allegedly stolen from the various parishes where he had served as a pastor, according to CBS.
When asked about the money, Diaz reportedly claimed it was his salary.
In a letter from the diocese of Santa Rosa, Bishop Robert F. Vasa revealed the amount of money found in the car to be $18,305.86, with an additional $77,000 found in further searches.
Bishop Vasa wrote:
I am deeply grieved that this has happened and am deeply saddened that the parishes he was sent to serve have been harmed.
The full extent of the theft is not known and may never be fully known but the Diocese is committed to determining as fully as possible the extent of the theft from each of these parishes.
Unfortunately, Bishop Vasa revealed ‘the protocols surrounding collection accounting would make it difficult to arrive at sufficient proof of theft to pursue criminal prosecution.’ As such, no criminal charges have yet been filed. The diocese has said it will replace the stolen money.
Favian Iniguez, a parishioner at the Santa Rosa church who was planning to be married by Diaz, was shocked and saddened by the news.
They told CBS:
I’ve known father Oscar Diaz just over 20 years. It’s shocking. You know, it’s really sad. I mean I feel sad, just for hearing how things ended up in the situation he’s in right now. He was going to marry us next month. August 31st. So we’re still planning to get married, now we’re in the process of looking for another priest.
While no criminal charges have been filed yet, Bishop Vasa’s statement said Diaz is ‘presently suspended from priestly ministry,’ and ‘there are no plans at this time for ministry in the Church and his future is uncertain.’
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.