SANTA ROSA, California — Bishop Robert F. Vasa informed the Santa Rosa Diocese July 22 that a local pastor was recovering well from surgery for injuries he sustained in a car accident, but he also had to announce the incident had uncovered the priest’s “prolonged history of theft.”

Father Oscar Diaz, who served most recently as pastor at Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa, suffered a fractured hip in a June 19 car accident and had to undergo surgery.

“(He) is recovering from this surgery,” Vasa said, thanking all those who prayed “for his well-being and recovery.”

“Unfortunately, it is my sad duty to announce that the accident uncovered a prolonged history of theft. At the time of the accident the EMT responders found bags of money in his car,” the bishop said. “These were the security bags used for parish collections.”

The police were alerted to the money the evening of July 19 and immediately contacted Vasa.

“I asked them to take custody of the cash and to account for it for possible criminal prosecution. Some days later, when the money was turned over to the diocese, it was counted and found to total $18,305.86,” the bishop said in his statement. “This money was associated with Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa where Father Oscar was pastor.”

Diaz “is presently suspended from priestly ministry,” Vasa said. “There are no plans at this time for ministry in the church and his future is uncertain.”

In his statement, he said the police conducted an initial investigation and several interviews but afterward determined “the protocols surrounding collection accounting would make it difficult to arrive at sufficient proof of theft to pursue criminal prosecution.”

After the initial search of his car that uncovered the bags of money, police in a further search found the priest had an additional $77,000 in cash, “which had apparently been stolen from the parishes where he served,” according to the bishop.

There also is evidence “money was stolen in a variety of ways from each of the parishes where he had served as pastor,” he added.

“I am deeply grieved that this has happened and am deeply saddened that the parishes he was sent to serve have been harmed,” Vasa said. “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. Once such determinations are made it is the goal of the diocese to make restitution to the parishes.”

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