Texas dioceses targeted by scammer impersonating Catholic priest — By: Catholic News Agency

Photos of a man claiming to be a priest named “Father Martin” who attempted to infiltrate several parishes around Texas in October 2023. / Credit: Office of Security and Emergency Management at the Diocese of Dallas

CNA Staff, Nov 21, 2023 / 14:45 pm (CNA).

A man calling himself “Father Martin” attempted to infiltrate several Texas parishes last month and reportedly succeeded in stealing several hundred dollars from one Houston parish, with the scam prompting a security warning from one of the state’s dioceses. 

On Oct. 25, a person who identified himself as a visiting priest named “Father Martin” showed up at six different parishes in the Diocese of Dallas, according to diocesan spokeswoman Katy Kiser.

“He raised suspicion to our parish staff because we follow a Safe Environment protocol, which requires priests from outside our diocese to come with a suitability letter, but also we work often enough with priests from other dioceses to understand that this didn’t seem legitimate, so these encounters were reported to our Office of Security and Emergency Management at the diocese,” Kiser told CNA. 

The diocesan security office subsequently reported “Father Martin” to local law enforcement because the encounter “seemed suspicious to our parish staff.” Kiser said the Dallas Police Department has “no active investigation” into the matter, however, because the diocese reported no losses, and thus police determined that “no crime was committed.”

“Father Martin” succeeded in accessing one private area of a Dallas parish, Kiser said, but she said it was determined “he wasn’t able to gain access to money or valuables” because of locked doors. 

In response to the incident, the Dallas Diocese issued a security bulletin that included photos of the fake priest along with a photo and description of his car, a gray Volkswagen Touareg. It also states that another known alias of the man is “Father Guillermo.”

“The Office of Security and Emergency Management is currently working with local, state, and federal law enforcement partners regarding this matter,” the bulletin read. “During the course of the investigation, we have determined this individual has active warrants issued for his arrest for theft and burglary offenses he has committed across several states.”

The Dallas security office encouraged people not to attempt to detain the man if they come in contact with him but rather to contact the police and the diocesan Office of Security and Emergency Management.

Two days later, on Oct. 27, “Father Martin” reportedly stole $500 from a priest’s wallet at the rectory of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston, a Houston Police Department spokeswoman told the New York Times. Houston is about a 3.5-hour drive south of Dallas. 

“He claimed he was a visiting priest from Chicago and that he had been staying in the rectory and left his keys in one of the rooms,” the police spokeswoman told the Times. 

A Houston Police Department spokesman confirmed the details reported in the Times to CNA and also added that the man was spotted getting into a car after stealing the money and driving away. 

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston did not respond to a request for further information.

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which advocates policy on behalf of all of the state’s bishops, declined to comment to CNA, saying it was “not in the scope of TCCB to respond to inquiries on this.”

The New York Times in its report cited memos it said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued earlier this year. Those memos reportedly warned that the unidentified man has also been active in California, Oregon, and Ontario, Canada, and also that he was “likely responsible for stealing $1,770 from a parish in Oregon.”

The USCCB did not respond to a request for comment on the matter from CNA.

Priest-impersonation scams are not new. Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have had to step in and clarify fake priests’ statuses several times in recent years. Just last month, the Diocese of Stockton, California, issued a warning about a pair of imposters posing as Catholic clergymen in the city of Modesto and charging high fees for blessings and sacraments.

In one unusual case reported this summer, a California restaurant allegedly enlisted a person to impersonate a priest with the goal of tricking employees into confessing their “sins” against their employer. The local Catholic Diocese of Sacramento clarified that the man has no link to the Church. 

The bizarre nature of the case prompted the U.S. Department of Labor to get involved, with the agency on June 12 calling the use of the fake priest “among the most shameless” corrupt actions employers have used against employees in the U.S.

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