Catholic Priest Accused of Misappropriating Funds in Hamilton Refugee Program
By Carmela Fragomeni
March 4, 2016
|Diocese of Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby issued a statement Wednesday saying “I am deeply saddened by the recent news concerning the allegations against Father Amer Saka.”|
A priest connected to a private refugee sponsorship program overseen by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton has been suspended amid allegations of financial misappropriation of funds.
The priest, Father Amer Saka, is a Chaldean Catholic and was most recently the parish priest at St. Joseph Chaldean Church in London, Ont. The Chaldean church represents Catholics from Iraq and neighbouring countries.
Saka's connection to the Hamilton Roman Catholic diocese is through its refugee sponsorship program, where he privately sponsored Iraqi refugees, said spokesperson Monsignor Murray Kroetsch.
Efforts to reach Saka were unsuccessful.
London police spokesperson Const. Ken Steeves said the Hamilton diocese has contacted his service and they are awaiting more information.
"We don't (have) an official complaint (yet) to start an investigation," he said.
Investigators will be meeting with church representatives soon, he added.
Saka privately sponsored refugees through the diocesan program under an agreement with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Kroetsch explained.
"I suspect he came here (to this diocese) because we have a large Chaldean community, we've had a longtime refugee program — I would guess close to 30 years; it's been very successful — and because he had a mission parish in Kitchener, which is in our diocese," Kroetsch said.
Kroetsch said the diocese knows there are about 10 or 11 of Saka's refugees who recently arrived in the Golden Horseshoe area as well as a number whose applications have been approved and would have been sponsored by him. The applications could represent as many as 20 refugees originally from Iraq, he said.
One or two of Saka's recent refugees might be living in Hamilton he said, but added he doesn't know for sure.
"Some have been here only three months."
Saka has been a partner with the program for about eight or nine years, Kroetsch said, and he does not know how many refugees that represents.
"We're trying to go through the records to see who he sponsored in the past. The only ones we know are those who arrived in the last year and the pending refugees who have been approved. But we don't know the exact number."
But since Saka is now unable to financially support the refugees he most recently sponsored, and the ones arriving soon, the Hamilton diocese will take over their care.
The diocese issued a news release Thursday to let the refugee community and sponsors know.
"Word is out in the Chaldean community," said Kroetsch. "We wanted to reassure these refugees we are going to look after them. We are in the process of contacting them."
There are close to 30 churches and parties in the sponsorship program, he said. Private sponsorship agreements with the government requires whoever or whichever group sponsors the refugees to financially support them — up to $50,000 per refugee — for their first 12 months in Canada.
Kroetsch said the allegations of misappropriated funds came to light about a week ago through Chaldean Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta at the Good Shepherd Chaldean Cathedral in Toronto. Shaleta told the diocese he had removed Saka from his London parish and why, said Kroetsch.
"We heard that Father Saka had been removed from his parish because of the (alleged) misappropriation of funds and that the funds were related to the sponsorship program … We don't yet have details on how much money was involved."
Kroetsch believes from what Shaleta said that Saka may have a gambling problem and is in a treatment centre.
Hamilton diocese Bishop Douglas Crosby issued a statement saying, "I am deeply saddened by the recent news concerning the allegations against Father Amer Saka."
He said although Saka is not a priest of the Hamilton diocese, he did "participate in the refugee sponsorship program which is operated by and overseen by the Diocese of Hamilton."
Crosby also stated the diocese remains committed to the continuing care and support of all refugees under its sponsorship program, including those whose sponsorship may have involved Saka.
He said until the allegations are fully investigated, Saka will have no further participation in the diocese's refugee sponsorship program.
Kroetsch said the diocese is working with London police and on collecting information, which will take time.
As for Hamilton's St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Church, Kroetsch said the priest there is "very responsible" along with his parish which also sponsors refugees and "is in good shape."
Shaleta, Saka's bishop, Saka's St. Joseph's church in London and Father Niaz Toma at Hamilton's St. Thomas Chaldean church could not be reached for comment. Phone calls and emails by The Spectator were not returned, although a secretary with St. Thomas church said Toma referred all questions to the Chaldean bishop.