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Beware of Imposters Posing as Catholic Clergymen in Modesto, California

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The Diocese of Stockton, California, has issued a stark warning regarding two imposters who have been posing as Catholic clergymen in the city of Modesto, engaging in fraudulent activities and charging exorbitant fees for blessings and sacraments.

Photo credit: Elimende Inagella

Photo credit: Elimende Inagella

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
10/23/2023 (7 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Imposters, Modesto, Catholic clergy, Fraud, Sacraments, Warning

The diocese has identified the imposters as two unidentified men who are falsely using the names of genuine clergymen from Mexico, specifically Archbishop Raúl Gómez González of Toluca and Father José Adán González Estrada, a priest from the same archdiocese.

These imposters have been charging substantial fees for sacramental blessings and for conducting unauthorized celebrations of sacraments such as baptism, confirmation, and first Communion, according to a warning issued by the diocese on a Friday.

Diocesan officials collaborated with the Archdiocese of Toluca in Mexico to authenticate this deception. Modesto, situated 90 miles north of Fresno in California's Central Valley, has fallen prey to this deceptive activity.

In addition to their sacramental activities, the imposters have been teaching classes and issuing certificates for a fee. While the precise nature of these classes and certificates remains unclear, photos of the certificates bear the words "confirmation" and "Communion."

Furthermore, the diocese has raised concerns that the imposters have been demanding birth certificates from individuals participating in the sacraments, which has prompted fears of human trafficking and identity theft.

The fraudsters have also employed intimidation tactics when their authority or identity is questioned, often resorting to legal threats against individuals.

While the diocese has been in contact with individuals who may have been victimized, many have chosen to remain anonymous.

Modesto police have been informed of this deception, but the diocese has been advised that only those who have fallen victim to the fraud can file criminal complaints.

The diocese is strongly urging any victims to contact the police and has emphasized that the police do not inquire about the caller's immigration status, with their primary concern being the combatting of criminal activities.

The diocese further stressed that, with few exceptions, Catholic sacraments are typically administered within Catholic churches. Celebrations of baptism, confirmation, and first Communion in outdoor locations like parks do not align with established Catholic practices.

Erin Haight, a spokeswoman for the Stockton Diocese, confirmed that the diocese is aware of only two imposters but is actively monitoring the situation. As of now, it remains uncertain whether any of the baptisms conducted by the imposters were valid, and the authenticity of the Communion hosts used is also in question.

The true identities of these men are still unknown.

Neighboring dioceses have been alerted to this fraudulent activity, although the Stockton Diocese has not received reports of similar incidents. The diocese intends to maintain communication with neighboring dioceses to address the situation.

The diocese expressed its gratitude to the vigilant members of the community who reported this suspicious activity, enabling swift and appropriate action to be taken.

This warning follows a previous alert issued by the diocese earlier this year, cautioning the faithful about a former Stockton priest, Leo Suarez, who had been dismissed from the clerical state and was found celebrating Masses in private homes. Suarez had been dismissed in 2016 after being credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor on two occasions. He had self-reported at least one of the abuses to the diocese in 2009, and the diocesan records indicated another credible accusation in 2014.

The diocese underlined the importance of protecting the administration of sacraments and educating parishioners to prevent them from becoming victims of unscrupulous individuals seeking to exploit their faith.

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