Father Amer Saka, a priest at the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in London, Ontario, Canada, has been accused of gambling away more than $500,000 that was raised for Iraqi refugees (video below).
"He called me on the phone [on Feb. 23.] and ... said he lost all the money," Bishop Emanuel Shaleta told the Toronto Star on March 26. "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,” Shaleta added. “Since there is an investigation going on, we cannot confirm what he’s saying.”
Shaleta said he suspended Saka after hearing about the missing money, and transported him to the Southdown Institute, a Catholic rehab facility, for voluntary treatment.
“An investigation is underway,” London police spokesperson Const. Sandasha Bough said on March 15.
So far, no charges have been filed against Saka, who has not responded to inquiries from the Toronto Star.
A church representative said the situation was being taken “very seriously,” and that it would be “inappropriate” to make statements during the investigation.
The Toronto-based church was founded with the intention of welcoming and serving immigrants who come to Canada from Iraq.
According to Monsignor Murray Kroetsch, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, Saka was head of a group that was raising money to sponsor Iraqi refugees.
“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,” Kroetsch said.
“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,” Kroetsch added.
“It is wrong for a priest to go and gamble," Shaleta said. "It’s against the rules."
"It is not church money, nothing to do with the church," he told CTV News. "It was deposited with Father Saka for refugees who arrive here."
"They trusted him," Shaleta added. "They did not give it as a gift. They were trusting the priest. They didn't ask for receipts."