Mississippi Priest Indicted for Financial Crimes, SNAP Calls for Bishop’s Resignation

A Mississippi priest who yesterday was indicted on 10 counts of wire fraud was apparently known to church officials in the Diocese of Jackson as a fraudster. Bishop Joseph Kopacz should resign his position immediately for repeatedly lying to parishioners and the public.

This case is yet another example of why we rarely trust the information put out about church officials regarding cases of clergy abuse. For decades, church officials have repeatedly proven they care most about their reputations and their wallets and will lie willingly to the public to protect those two things, often at the expense of children and the vulnerable. The information released in this case by the Department of Homeland Security that demonstrates that Bishop Kopacz “repeatedly lied” to parishioners is just the latest proof. 

While this is not a sex crimes case, it demonstrates how church officials in Jackson allowed Fr. Lenin Vargas to take advantage of vulnerable people in his parish, convincing them to donate to fundraisers for a fraudulent cancer diagnosis and non-existent orphanage in Mexico. According to the investigators, Bishop Kopacz and the Diocese of Jackson knew for at least 5 years that Fr. Vargas was lying about his diagnosis to parishioners and collecting money for cancer that he did not have. Their response, rather than righteous outrage and public condemnation, was more of the same: minimization, lies, and desperate pleas for forgiveness after the truth was made public by secular, independent investigators.

Bishop Kopacz role in this case is clear, and we believe that if he were not shielded by the title of “Bishop” before his name that he would be in handcuffs instead of hiding comfortably behind a deferred prosecution agreement. But even if he is protected from criminal repercussions, we believe that he should be forced to reckon with the anger of parishioners and the public, and the only way to do so properly is to resign his position.

The facts are clear: for years, Bishop Kopacz allowed his parishioners to be defrauded rather than confront a known wrongdoer within the diocesan ranks. This does not inspire confidence that Bishop Kopacz will deal with any problem properly and makes us especially concerned for children in the Diocese of Jackson.

In a time when courageous leadership was needed, Bishop Kopacz instead chose complicity. For that, he should no longer be considered a bishop by anyone.

CONTACT: Mark Belenchia, SNAP Mississippi ([email protected], 601-953-2535), Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

Showing 1 comment

  • John Chevedden
    commented 2020-07-17 09:03:14 -0500
    This is a reminder of:
    Two nuns stole $500,000 for trips to Las Vegas.
    But the church doesn’t want them prosecuted.

    Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, the principal at St. James Catholic School, an elementary school in Torrance, California, a coastal suburb southwest of Los Angeles and Sister Lana Chang stole $500,000 for trips to Las Vegas. The school said that the two nuns, reportedly best friends, used the pilfered funds on trips and casino visits.

    The December 2018 revelations came as a shock to parents and church members, who were operating under the impression that St. James was struggling to afloat in fiscally troubled waters. 

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