Diocese: Santa Rosa priest found with bags of stolen cash totaling $95,000 after car crash
A car crash that sent a Santa Rosa priest to the hospital last month has exposed what his superiors now believe may be a career-long habit of taking money from the church and its parishioners, betraying the trust of the faithful and bringing renewed scandal to a beleaguered institution still recovering from the taint of decades of clergy abuse.
Father Oscar Diaz, who has since been suspended from his ministry at Resurrection Church, had more than $18,000 in cash in his car divided between a half-dozen church collection bags when he plowed into slowed highway traffic the afternoon of June 19 and was badly injured, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa said.
Church officials recovered about $77,000 more from Diaz’s parish office and his home, including more than a dozen security bags used for church offerings from various parishes he served previously and a stack of mostly $100 bills totaling $10,083 in an envelope in his desk, according to the Santa Rosa Diocese of the Catholic Church.
Additional evidence suggests Diaz, 56, allegedly took checks made out to different parishes and deposited them into personal accounts, and used other means to misappropriate funds — mostly so he could send money back to family and friends in Mexico, the bishop said.
When confronted by church officials about his conduct, Vasa said, Diaz confessed in late June to a long history of pocketing church collections.
Police have not arrested Diaz or accused him of committing a crime. The Press Democrat could not reach Diaz for comment Monday or independently confirm the allegations made by Vasa.
Diaz, a man the bishop described as a close confidante, one highly regarded by his brethren, did not offer any explanation for his alleged behavior, Vasa said.
“I can only imagine that it has to be some kind of a severe sickness,” the bishop said. “Who in his right mind steals a collection and keeps those bags as evidence of the theft, for years? It makes no sense.”
Vasa said the church may never know how extensive the alleged thefts were. Diaz, he alleged, “absolutely” took advantage of all five parishes where he has served as pastor since 2004, and likely before that, when he would have been an assistant.
“I’m not sure how long it will take me to sort through all of this, but I anticipate it will take four to six months before I have a clearer idea of what the numbers will be,” Vasa said.
He called the situation “a very deeply felt betrayal.”
Diaz, who fractured a hip and required a surgery in the wake of the car crash, is recuperating at a private home, Vasa said.
He is not in custody and is not under threat of immediate arrest, the diocese said.
After an initial investigation, Santa Rosa police determined the accounting protocols for collections at the church were so lax that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution, Vasa said.
Detectives opened an investigation immediately after the car crash and concluded they needed additional information and accounting from the church to proceed, Santa Rosa police said in a statement Monday.
Information released to the media on Monday included new, unspecified details that warranted additional investigation, police said.