Father Amer Saka, above, a priest working at the St Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in London, Ontario, is under police investigation for gambling away more than $500,000 of refugee sponsorship cash.
The investigation, according to this report, was launched after Saka told his bishop, Emanuel Shaleta, that funds intended to help new Canadians had instead vanished in vice. Said the bishop:
He called me on the phone and . . . said he lost all the money. I said, ‘How?’ He said, ‘gambling’.
We believe that Father Saka has a serious gambling problem and that these funds may have been used for that purpose. Since there is an investigation going on, we cannot confirm what he’s saying.
Shaleta, who sits at the head of Canada’s first and only Chaldean eparchy, or jurisdiction, said he suspended the priest immediately after learning of the missing money.
The bishop drove to London the next day to take Saka for several days of voluntary treatment at Southdown Institute, a non-profit facility north of Toronto for priests battling problems ranging from addiction to depression to sexually abusive behaviour.
London police confirmed they received a complaint in February of alleged financial misappropriation related to the local parish.
A St Joseph church representative said it is treating the situation “very seriously” but that comment would be “inappropriate” given an ongoing internal investigation.
The Chaldean Catholic Church is based in Baghdad and represents Catholics from Iraq and neighbouring countries, but ultimately falls under the watch of the Holy See in the Vatican.
The Toronto-based Chaldean eparchy is one of the Chaldean Catholic Church’s newest, founded with Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing less than five years ago as Iraqi immigrants continued to arrive in Canada. It encompasses several churches in Ontario, including St Joseph.
Monsignor Murray Kroetsch, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, which runs the sponsorship programme, said Saka was the leader of a constituent group raising funds to sponsor refugees from Iraq.
Kroetsch said the Hamilton diocese filed up to 20 applications sponsored by Saka for refugees from Iraq. About 10 of them have arrived in southern Ontario. With all now facing a potential void of financial backing, the Hamilton diocese has taken over responsibility for their support, Kroetsch said.
We want to assure the refugees that our part of our agreement is looked after and that money will be provided to help them feel secure and help them find their footing in the country.
Holders of sponsorship agreements, signed with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, must support refugees for at least the first year after their arrival.
They’re somewhat vulnerable, and now they may be even more fearful … We need to assure them that we’re not just going to abandon them.
Sponsorships cost about $6,000 a person, or about $20,000 to $25,000 for a family of four, said Shaleta. He sorrowfully added:
It is wrong for a priest to go and gamble. It’s against the rules.
The bishop said he informed parishioners – mostly northern Iraqi immigrants, many from communities now overrun by IS who are trying to bring family members to Canada – soon after the priest told him about the missing funds.
Hat tip: Trevor Blake