SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — Little did the emergency workers treating Father Oscar Diaz after car crash in Santa Rosa last week know the hidden secret they would find in the back of the vehicle.
Nestled in the back, according to a release from the Santa Rosa diocese, were bags containing stolen parish collections totaling $18,305.86.
“This money was associated with Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa where Father Oscar was pastor,” said Bishop Robert F. Vasa in a diocese news release. “After an initial investigation and several interviews, the police determined that the protocols surrounding collection accounting would make it difficult to arrive at sufficient proof of theft to pursue criminal prosecution.”
But after the initial discovery, further investigation and search revealed that he had an additional $77,000 in cash which had apparently been taken from the parishes where he served.
“There is also evidence that money was stolen in a variety of ways from each of the Parishes where he had served as pastor,” Bishop Vasa said. “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.”
A priest for the past 25 years, Diaz had connections to at least seven churches.
A statement from the diocese says Diaz admitted “that he had taken the collection bags and had been doing so for some time.”
Father Oscar suffered a fractured hip, underwent surgery and is currently recovering from surgery.
Favian Iniguez, a parishioner at the Santa Rosa church, was stunned at the news.
“I’ve known father Oscar Diaz just over 20 years. It’s shocking. You know, it’s really sad,” said Iniguez. “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.”
No criminal charges have been filed, but the diocese announced it would replace the stolen money.
“Father Oscar is presently suspended from priestly ministry,” the bishop said. “There are no plans at this time for ministry in the Church and his future is uncertain.”
The Bishop’s statement also explained the decision not to pursue criminal prosecution, at least not now. He also suggested that the way in which the donation money was collected and lack of clear records may make it impossible to know how much money was taken.
Wilson Walker contributed to this report.