Canadian Priest Gambles Away $386,000 in Donations Earmarked for Iraqi Refugees
Posted on: March 30, 2016, 01:07h.
Last updated on: March 30, 2016, 02:17h.
A Canadian priest in Ontario has admitted to losing more than CDN$500,000 (US$386,000) in charitable funds that were supposed to be used to assist Iraqi refugees seeking asylum in the eastern Canadian province.
Father Amer Saka of the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church told Bishop Emanuel Shaleta in February that he had gambled away all the money, which had been collected through parishioner donations. The Chaldean Church is headquartered in Baghdad, Iraq, and dates back to the 1st century, though Saka’s parish in London, Ontario was founded less than five years ago with Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing.
“We believe Father Saka has a serious gambling problem and that these funds may have been used for that purpose,” Shaleta told the Toronto Star. “He called me . . . and said he lost all the money.”
The roughly $386,000 was deposited into an account entrusted to Saka by families belonging to St. Joseph’s. The finances were supposed to be safeguarded by the church and used to assist incoming refugees from Iraq.
The Chaldean refugee sponsorship program requires donors to support migrants for a minimum of one year after they arrive in Canada.
“They did not give this money as a donation for their church,” Shaleta said. “They trusted him, this money was not for him. It was to be given back to the refugees [once they arrived here].”
It’s unclear what Saka’s game of choice was in the casino, or which venue or venues he frequented.
Regardless, it’s yet another black eye on the Catholic Church, as the religion is still dealing with persistent claims of sexual abuse within its organization. Just this month, a state grand jury in Pennsylvania found that more than 50 priests and religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona sexually abused and raped children over a 40-year period.
No formal charges have been levied on Saka, but an investigation by the London Police Service is ongoing. Saka has since checked into the Southdown Institute, an Ontario addiction and mental health rehabilitation center for clergy members.
Are Church Donations Safe?
While Saka attempts to overcome his gambling addiction, parishes across the country might want to take a closer look at their bank accounts, as the St. Joseph incident could be miniscule should additional priests try their hand at the casino with money that isn’t theirs.
In February, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCBC) announced a joint campaign with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Aid to the Church in Need Canada, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada, in which it had raised over $3.5 million.
The CCBC charity funds will reportedly be distributed to Syrian refugees seeking safety in the Middle East and parts of Europe. What kind of safeguards have been put in place, if any, to protect the donations and make sure they reach refugees is unclear.
For the sake of the donors and refugees, we can only pray that the $3.5 million is being better secured than the contributions collected by St. Joseph’s.
It should go without saying that priests aren’t permitted to participate in gambling activities, particularly with parishioner monies, but to reinforce that notion, Shaleta explained that “it’s against the rules” of the Catholic priesthood.