A former Tulare priest accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from parishioners has bailed out of jail. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno is reaching out to members to help calm any concerns.
Questions surround former priest Ignacio Villafan of St. Rita's Catholic Church in Tulare. This week he was arrested and charged with embezzling $425,000.
The Diocese of Fresno was first told about accounting problems several years ago at St. Rita's. That's when they put Villafan on paid administrative leave. They also contacted Tulare police.
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said, "Tulare Police Department did a lengthy thorough investigation and based on that we were able to file charges."
Ward says Villafan took the money from 2005 to 2012. If he's found guilty, Villafan could face seven years in state prison. Right now, no one is saying what happened to the money.
Ward added, "That's one of the aspects that the Tulare Police Department and our investigators will continue to investigate."
The district attorney says that evidence will come out during a preliminary hearing. Villafan will be formally charged on January 22. He's still on paid administrative leave.
No one answered at a home in Tulare where records say Villafan lives. He spent a night in jail before bailing out on New Year's Day.
The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office filed embezzlement charges Wednesday against Rev. Ignacio Villafan, pastor at Saint Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare.
After having an outside accounting firm examine the records — dating back to the time that Villafan was pastor — Diocesan officials brought the evidence of financial improprieties to the attention of the Tulare Police Department. An arrest followed.
Villafan was immediately removed from administrative duties, pending the outcome of the investigation.
The Most Reverend Armando X. Ochoa, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, offered the following statement: “We must be good stewards; accountable for the gifts and resources that are faithfully offered to the Church to accomplish the mission of Christ in our midst. My concern and prayerful support for all impacted by this particular situation continues.”
The Diocese of Fresno has a parish financial-reporting and monitoring system in place to increase transparency and guide management best practices. Training is provided to clergy and staff members throughout the Diocese. All parishes in the Diocese are undergoing an agreed-upon procedure known as parish internal-control assessments, which continues on a three-year cycle.