Tulare priest gets probation for stealing $300,000 from parish

Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa says diocese using "restorative justice" approach for Fr. Ignacio Villafan, who remains on administrative leave

Rev. Ignacio Villafan was sentenced to five years probation for grand theft of funds from St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare. (image: Tulare County District Attorney’s Office)

Catholic priest Ignacio Villafan, 52, was sentenced Wednesday to five years probation for stealing over $300,000 from the Tulare church where he served as the pastor in charge, the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office said.

The sentence by Judge Gary Paden is too lenient because Villafan is not going to jail, District Attorney Tim Ward said.

“To think that a person could steal such a large sum and not face incarceration undermines the justice that we in the District Attorney’s Office seek every day,” Ward said.

Bishop Armando Xavier Ochoa of the Diocese of Fresno told the judge that Villafan’s actions betrayed parishioners. But the church is short of priests, so Ochoa said he wants to take a “restorative justice” approach, meaning that Villafan will one day return to ministry but have no access to funds.

Villafan was in charge of St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare from June 1, 2005 to Jan. 21, 2012. After being caught, he was put on paid administrative leave by the diocese and remains on leave.

He wrote checks for his personal daily use worth $195,000, the District Attorney’s Office said. He also gifted church funds to family members. The diocese did an audit and found that more than $300,000 was missing.

Restitution “will take him many, many years to accomplish,” Ochoa said. The bishop also said Villafan’s family members must take some responsibility because they benefited from the crime.

Full story at The Fresno Bee.


  1. mchicha wacheza says:

    Well, I know of a San Diego priest who was found steeling and it was swept under the rag

  2. Tony de New York says:

    I bet the money went to his boy – friend luxuries.

    • Some folks here look for the gay angle on everything.

      • Anonymous says:

        He has a 60% chance (at least) of being right. Not a bad bet.

        • Steve Seitz says:

          I think that number’s overblown. I think the true number of homosexuals is between 33% and 50%.

          Also, please keep in mind that this whole thing must weigh heavily on our heterosexual priests who may have concerns that their noble calling is being branded as a gay institution. It doesn’t help anyone to repeat either number.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Clergy corruption abounds.

  4. The article does not specify where the funds went. More importantly, the article does not specify how the pastor did this ‘theft’. What basic accounting procedures or practices were not in place? Fortunately, an audit by the Diocese caught this situation. The article does not specify when, in the six plus years as pastor, the thefts happened. Perhaps mandatory annual audits would have caught this earlier. In God we trust; all other we audit.

  5. Just when you didn’t think it could get any worse…

  6. Steve Seitz says:

    I don’t know how things are done today in American seminaries, but at St. John’s Seminary back in the 80s and 90s, the seminary didn’t review a man’s spiritual fitness in evaluating a candidate. In fact, the spiritual director couldn’t even give an opinion to the review board. Instead, the board only looked at things that were external.

    While it’s true that the spiritual often radiates out to the external, it’s also true that a spiritually dead man can present an illusion of religiosity and minimal holiness.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Talk about parish finances—from the archives here at Cal-Catholic:


    This is from when Ochoa was bishop of El Paso. If Fr. Rodriguez was actually guilty of a crime it seems that the shortage of priests and “restorative justice” didn’t matter then.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Either we have religious leaders who are really stupid or we have religious leaders who are trying to destroy the Church.

  9. Linda Maria says:

    I think this CRIMINAL “wolf-in-sheep’s clothing” fake “priest” and his terrible bishop– ought to be sent off permanently, to another planet! That priest belongs in JAIL!! And the corrupt bishop obviously could care less about God, and the Catholic parishioners and their families, whom he is supposed to serve! Why not go down to the local jail, dress up some criminal in priest’s vestments– and put him to work as a “priest,” serving God’s people?? All because of the priest shortage! How many more criminals does Bishop Ochoa have, dressed up as “priests,” in the Diocese of Fresno??

  10. Anonymous says:

    Shall we take a poll on who’s worse, the bishop who wanted this turkey kept out of jail, or the judge who kept him out? $300,000 and PROBATION?

    • Linda Maria says:

      Anonymous– this man is on PAID administrative leave! Who is paying his salary? Catholic parishioners in the pews, that’s who! He should not receive one penny– and should be in jail! And criminals of the clergy should NOT be returned to clerical duties, serving parishioners — they should all instead be laicized and kicked out of the Church! No more “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” paid for by good, trusting Catholics in the pews– harming good Catholics and their families!! The holy priesthood is sacred– and a HUGE responsibility!! Doesn’t this bishop CARE at all?? Maybe he, too, should be kicked out!

  11. Linda Maria says:

    Bishop Ochoa was HORRIBLE when he was the Bishop of the Diocese of El Paso! He evilly persecuted a fine priest, Fr Rodriguez– and tried to totally destroy him! All because Fr. Rodriguez spoke out publicly against great moral evils (for which the bishop censored him, and next, banished him to a tiny parish out in the sticks someplace) — and additionally, because he and a group of good Catholic parishioners, were interested in the old Latin Tridentine Mass! All for that!

  12. What exactly was this felon‘s chief qualification for the priesthood? Being bilingual? The last time I checked, El Chapo was bilingual, too! There are much better men out there, and the Church must start reaching out to them.

  13. Danijela Brekalo says:

    Maybe the Bishop Ochoa should do the time for this priest, since the church is not short on Bishops. And to say this thief will return to his priestly duties after this, is exactly what is wrong with the Bishops today. What kind of credibility and leadership will he have to the people he is supposed to pastor? Oh, he won’t have access to funds? And who is to guarantee that? The same bishop who is excusing him and covering for him? They should both be kicked out of priesthood.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If you are a Priest who celebrates the Traditional Latin Mass and you get a parking ticket, the Church’s leadership will nail your skin to the wall. If you are a Priest who is a homosexual, you get to rape all the altar boys and seminarians that you want and the Church’s leadership will promote you!

  15. Nobody’s is perfect This pries deserves to change.

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