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But a final trip to the Rev. Diaz, 56, was identified by church officials as the culprit. The suspended pastor of Resurrection Roman Catholic Parish in Santa Rosa first set off suspicions June 19, when he fractured his hip in a car crash, according to the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Diaz allegedly described the money bags to first responders as his salary, but a hospital employee contacted police after the stuffed sacks arrived at the emergency room with the injured priest.
The church told parishioners of the alleged deception Sunday. The week after the crash, Vasa said, Diaz called his staff to report additional collection bags in his office that needed to be processed and deposited.
Diocesan staff suspect the alleged thefts at the Resurrection Parish began in September , just a month after Diaz began leading Sunday Mass at the church. It is unclear how Diaz allegedly embezzled parish funds for so long, but church finance experts said collection standards often vary. The Diocese of Santa Rosa did not respond to a request for comment about its parish reporting practices. The Diocese of Santa Rosa suspended Diaz, who underwent surgery after the crash, from the ministry during the embezzlement investigation.
Church records show the pastor recently celebrated 25 years with the diocese. He previously led several parishes in Lake and Sonoma counties: St. Mary Parish in Lakeport. All United States dioceses have different parish accounting policies, according to Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay organization calling for sex-abuse-policy reform. Voice of the Faithful lauded the Diocese of Santa Rosa in for greatly improving its financial transparency webpage, but the organization also noted that the diocese was only above average when it came to explaining how parish collections were used.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends regular and frequent auditing in every diocese and its parishes, but each diocese has its own collection policies, much like varying child sex-abuse-reporting policies prior to the Boston Globe investigation that found widespread abuse in the church.