A priest stole more than $95,000 from Northern California parishes where he served over the last several years, according to the Diocese of Santa Rosa.
The theft initially was discovered during a car crash investigation last month in which Father Oscar Diaz, 56, was injured, according to Bishop Robert Vasa.
Diaz, then pastor at Resurrection Roman Catholic Parish in Santa Rosa, alerted emergency medical technicians there were several bags of money inside his vehicle following the June 19 crash, Vasa said.
The priest told the EMTs the bags of cash — which totaled more than $18,000 — were his salary, authorities said. The money was transported to the emergency room with Diaz, and a hospital employee alerted police, who in turn contacted Vasa.
Further investigation uncovered 15 bags containing more than $77,000 in cash in Diaz’s car, office and home, including a stack of $100 bills, the diocese said. Parish officials said the money had been taken from collection plate offerings between September and June.
Vasa said Diaz admitted he had been taking collection funds from other parishes in California where he had served as pastor. According to the Mercury News, money also was taken from the Parish of St. Mary Immaculate in Lakeport and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Clearlake.
“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,” Vasa said. “Once such determinations are made, it is the goal of the diocese to make restitution to the parishes.”
Diaz was ordained for the Diocese of Santa Rosa 25 years ago, in July 1994. According to Vasa, he has been suspended from the ministry and his future remains uncertain. He has not been charged.
“There were and are a whole series of emotions, which range from fierce anger, to sadness, to confusion, to shock and even to fear,” Vasa said.