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Priest gambles away money for refugees

By Jean Ko Din
The Catholic Register

04/13/2016

TORONTO (CCN) — The Diocese of Hamilton is picking up the pieces after a Chaldean Catholic priest admitted to gambling away $500,000 of donations meant for refugees.

The diocese has vowed to make sure no refugees are turned away due to the loss of funds.

Rev. Amer Saka, parish priest of St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in London, Ont., confessed to Chaldean eparchial Bishop Emanuel Shaleta last month that the money for the parish’s refugee sponsorship had been gambled away. Saka was immediately suspended and was sent to Southdown Institute, a mental health treatment facility north of Toronto for religious and clergy.

“Bishop Shaleta contacted us right away to let us know that (Saka) had told him,” said Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, chancellor for the Diocese of Hamilton. “At that point we issued a press release just to let people know that . . . we would honour the commitment that was made to those people who are refugees.”

The Hamilton diocese is the local Sponsorship Agreement Holder working with Catholic parishes and refugee sponsorship committees in the region. Its refugee office is processing more than 50 individual cases for St. Joseph’s Church. Kroetsch said the priority now is to let the refugees and the sponsoring families know that the diocese has taken over the financial responsibility for their cases.

Kroetsch admits this will be no easy feat. Eleven sponsored refugees have already arrived in London and about 40 more individuals are approved to arrive in Canada in the next few months.

“As a diocese, we respond to it, the same a family does to a crisis,” said Kroetsch. “If you have a financial crisis in your family, things that used to be priorities go down to the bottom of the list and this becomes a priority.”

Kroetsch said the diocese is also working with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to ensure that the parish’s commitments are honoured and the refugees that are coming will be well looked after.

“We don’t want those people to feel even more vulnerable than they already are,” said Kroetsch.

Kroetsch said he hasn’t had contact with Saka since the investigation launched. Saka falls under the responsibility of Shaleta and the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai. Shaleta has refused to comment further as the investigation is ongoing.

A report was filed with London police on Feb. 24 and the fraud unit launched an investigation. No charges have been laid as of The Register’s press time.

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