One of the dirty secrets of Christianity is that there are numerous crooked pastors, priests and church financial secretaries embezzling funds. The International Bulletin of Missionary Research projected that $37 billion would be stolen by Christian religious leaders in 2013 and this fraud will reach $60 billion annually by 2025.
Here are four possible signs that money is being embezzled by religious leaders.
- The pastor or priest lives an extravagent lifestyle.
- The church leader regularly fails to turn in receipts when using the church or ministry credit card.
- The church sends you a receipt for donations and the amount listed doesn't match your own records of what you have given. (Anonymously given cash offerings will not be tracked.)
- The church suddenly starts showing large unexplained debts.
I've compiled this list of warning signs from numerous church fraud cases and future articles will describe how these thefts took place and how religious leaders attempted to cover up their crimes
Churches have done very little to confront the problem of insider theft unlike large retail businesses. Companies like Office Depot and Staples have theft prevention professionals that advise store managers on theft issues and conduct internal investigations when employees are suspected of theft of merchandise.
Denominations could hire investigators to assist churches with fraud problems and whisteblowers would need to be protected for revealing fraud.
Occasionally proactive church members will start questioning church leadership and uncover this fraud.
In 2008 the Chicago Tribune reported that Catholic priest Rev. Steven Patte was caught stealing money from the offering plate:
A Chicago police detective who belonged to the parish's finance committee grew suspicious about accounting discrepancies and placed a marked $100 bill in the collection plate, sources familiar with the case said.
According to Chicago Breaking News, Patte plead guilty to stealing more than $12,000 from his church. Chicago Breaking News also noted, "Following his 2006 reassignment to St. Emily's Parish in Mt. Prospect, officials at St. Ita's discovered that their budget surplus had disappeared and the church was $400,000 in debt."
This form of theft is called skimming. Wikipedia reports:
A form of white-collar crime, skimming is a slang term that refers to taking cash "off the top" of the daily receipts of a business (or from any cash transaction involving a third interested party) and officially reporting a lower total; the formal legal term is defalcation.
If you have any questions on the topic of religious financial fraud, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article and I will try to answer them in future articles.