An audit of financial records at a Catholic church in Tulare has uncovered discrepancies and sparked an investigation by the Tulare Police Department, the Diocese of Fresno announced Saturday.
This week, the police department turned over its investigation of St. Rita Church to the Tulare County District Attorney's Financial Crimes Unit for review and potential prosecution, the diocese said.
The alleged financial discrepancies dated back to a previous administration at St. Rita, and a priest has been removed from administrative duties pending completion of the law enforcement investigation, the diocese said.
In a statement, Bishop Armando X. Ochoa noted that church officials must be accountable and good stewards of the funds provided to churches.
"I am deeply concerned about the impact this situation is having on all those involved; especially, the faith community of St. Rita Church in Tulare and the priest in question," Ochoa said. "My ongoing prayerful support is with the parishioners, staff and the current administrator, Rev. Ivan Hernandez, of whom I have great confidence."
The diocese implemented in 2008 a new parish financial management, reporting and monitoring system to improve management practices. In addition to the examination of financial records, the new system provides financial management training to clergy and staff members across the diocese.
The alleged financial improprieties at St. Rita were uncovered after this system was implemented at the church, the diocese said.
Tulare Police investigators were not available to comment Saturday.
Diocese spokeswoman Teresa Dominguez said the St. Rita parish community will be informed of this matter in the context of a pastoral message at all Masses this weekend.
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