Priest Impersonator Targeted Texas Churches, Officials Say


A man impersonating a priest who calls himself Father Martin stole $500 from a church in Houston and showed up at six other parishes in Dallas last month, prompting security warnings among dioceses in Texas, church officials said.

The unidentified man has also been active in California, Oregon and Ontario, according to memos from March and April from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which warned of a man posing as a priest who had gained access to parish offices and who was “likely responsible for stealing $1,770 from a parish in Oregon.”

In Houston, the man, who was dressed as a priest and went by the name of Father Martin, stole $500 from the rectory of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Houston on Oct. 27, a spokeswoman for the Houston Police Department, Jodi Silva, said on Sunday.

“He claimed he was a visiting priest from Chicago and that he had been staying in the rectory and left his keys in the one of the rooms,’’ Ms. Silva said.

The man was allowed into the rectory, where he stole the cash from the wallet of a priest, she said. The man then left the building and fled in a vehicle. Ms. Silva said the department was not naming the man because he had not been charged.

“We are working with other departments to determine if any similarities exist in other cases,” Ms. Silva said.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston referred inquiries about the case to the Houston Police Department but she did confirm that a memo had been circulated to church pastors warning about the man.

In the Dallas cases, the man was dressed in a dark suit but no clerical collar and told parish employees that he was a visiting priest.

He appeared at the six parishes unannounced on Oct. 25, said Katy Kiser, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

She said the man raised suspicions among parish workers because church protocol requires that priests from outside a diocese come with a suitability letter from their pastor or bishop to document who they are.

“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,” Ms. Kiser added.

She said the diocese reported the man to the Dallas Police Department on Oct. 26. Nothing was stolen from the Dallas churches, Ms. Kiser said.

“‘Father Martin’ didn’t access any private areas of our parishes except for one area but all the doors were locked on the second floor so it was determined he wasn’t able to gain access to money or valuables,” she said in an email.

A spokeswoman with the Dallas Police Department said on Sunday that the police were not investigating the fake priest because no offenses had been committed. There is no criminal charge in Texas for impersonating a priest, according to Dallas prosecutors and police.

“It is disheartening for many of us, so we hope the more attention the better,” Ms. Kiser said of the man. “Reports of theft and the impersonation of a priest are unnerving.”


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