April 18, 2016

London, Ont. - 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.

Father Amer Saka, 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.

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

"Bishop Shaleta contacted us right away to let us know that (Saka) had told him," said Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, chancellor for the Hamilton Diocese.

The diocese will honour the commitments made to the refugees, he said.

In Edmonton, Archbishop Richard Smith sent out a memo stating that funds raised in parishes for emergency purposes are deposited in parish accounts held by the archdiocese and are processed through parish books in accordance with archdiocesan policies.

The Hamilton Diocese is the 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 Parish.

Kroetsch said the diocese has taken over financial responsibility for the cases of refugees and sponsoring families.

Eleven sponsored refugees have already arrived in London, and about 40 more individuals are approved to arrive in Canada in the next few months.

Kroetsch said the diocese is also working with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to ensure the parish's commitments to refugees who are coming will be honoured.

"We don't want those people to feel even more vulnerable than they already are," said Kroetsch.

Saka falls under the responsibility of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of Mar Addai. Shaleta has refused to comment further as the investigation is ongoing.

No charges had been laid as of April 7.