Priest in Tulare at the center of a financial investigation

FRESNO, Calif.

Many of the parishioners found out about the investigation into the church finances during Sunday Mass. Many parishioners were shocked but say they will not rush to judgment.

Parishioners could be heard singing outside St. Rita's Catholic Church Sunday evening. It was Mass as usual except at the end, when church members were informed of the unfortunate situation. A former priest is at the center of a financial investigation for the management of church funds.

The allegations were a shock to Manuel Sanchez, who's been a member of the parish for nearly 65 years.

"As far as we know it hasn't happened before in the diocese but you know, we don't even know what happened, maybe nothing happened," Sanchez said.

The diocese did not disclose the amount in question or when the discrepancies took place as the investigation is ongoing. But they said the financial discrepancy took place during a previous administration, not the current leadership at the St. Rita Parrish. The priest under investigation is on paid administrative leave.

"To me I look it like it's the individual, they're innocent until proven guilty," parishioner Steven Correia said.

In 2008, the diocese switched over to a new financial management system. The switch included a financial review of all churches in the diocese.

"When that was being conducted with the here at this parish, that review did bring about discoveries that we would consider inappropriate," Teresa Dominguez with the Diocese of Fresno said.

Bishop Armando Ochoa attended most of the Sunday masses at St. Rita's church. He assured parishioners that if any amount of money was missing it would be compensated by the diocese.

"The bishop would really like to stress that he is very concerned about everyone involved and that includes the priest in question as well," Dominguez said.

The St. Rita Parrish has nearly 650 members and many of them are standing by their church no matter what.

"It's been a great church I grew up here been part of the Knights of Columbus and different organization, basically like a second family here," Correia said.

Tulare police have turned the case over to the district attorney's office to determine if it will file criminal charges.

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