Priest says he gambled $380K raised for Iraqi refugees

Cathy Lynn Grossman

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Canadian police are investigating a Chaldean Catholic priest from London, Ontario, after church officials reported more than $500,000 Canadian ($380,000 U.S.) slated for refugee sponsorship was lost to gambling, according to The Toronto Star.

Fr. Amer Saka, a priest working at the St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in London, allegedly told his bishop, Emanuel Shaleta, that funds intended to help new Canadians had instead vanished in vice, Shaleta told the Star.

"He called me on the phone and … said he lost all the money. I said, 'How?' He said, 'Gambling,' " Shaleta told the Star on March 26, referring to a conversation he said took place Feb. 23.

"We believe that Fr. Saka has a serious gambling problem and that these funds may have been used for that purpose," he said. "Since there is an investigation going on, we cannot confirm what he's saying."

Shaleta said he suspended the priest immediately after learning of the missing money and contacted the police the next day, the paper reported.

No charges have been laid. The allegations have not been proved in court.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is based in Baghdad and represents Catholics from Iraq and neighboring countries. 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.

Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton, which runs the refugee sponsorship program, told the Star that 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. The Hamilton diocese has taken over responsibility for their support, Kroetsch said.

"It is wrong for a priest to go and gamble," Shaleta told the Star. "It's against the rules."

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