Priest suspended when car crash reveals $95K in embezzled funds from church

A car accident that left a California priest with a broken hip and other injuries, helped authorities discover a $95,000 embezzlement scheme.

At the scene of the June 19th accident in Santa Rosa, police found $18,305.86 inside parish collection bags in Father Oscar Diaz’s car, according to a Monday news release. The 56-year-old priest of Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Parish initially told authorities that he earned the cash from his job. However, according to KGO, he may have taken the money from a number of different parishes.

According to a statement released by Bishop Robert F. Vasa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, an additional $77,000 in cash was found in Diaz's home, also in collection bags from parishes Diaz has served.

"Unfortunately, it is my sad duty to announce that the accident uncovered a prolonged history of theft," Vasa wrote. "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."

While the Diocese promises to make restitution to the parishes for Diaz's alleged crime, it is unlikely the priest will face criminal charges, due to lack of sufficient evidence, wrote Vasa. However, “Father Oscar is presently suspended from priestly ministry.”

"I have often said that, 'Only those you trust can steal from you' and that appears to be the case here," Vasa wrote in a statement on July 19 in which he first delivered news of the allegations.

While parish members are shocked by the accusations against their priest, one displayed forgiveness.

"I just know he is a good man and my thought is, like a lot of us, we're not perfect," parish member Lynn Angeles told KGO.

Diaz, who has served as a priest for 25 years, admitted to the theft, according to the June 19th statement.

“I will not hide this ugly truth. I have no desire to be defamatory. What we, as a Church, do at this juncture needs to be healing, restorative and transparent. This public declaration is a way in which Father Oscar can be made accountable for his actions," Vasa wrote. "Unfortunately, given the length of time over which theft occurred, the variety of methods and the total dollars involved, I cannot envision any possible future ministry."

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