A Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco has been accused of fraudulently borrowing money from nearly a hundred parishioners to fuel his gambling habits.
The Rev. John San Maung, a native of Burma who was ordained there in 1963 and has served in the archdiocese of San Francisco since 1970, has been missing since his official suspension by Archbishop John R. Quinn in July. The San Francisco district attorney's office has issued a warrant for his arrest.
The case was exposed by a local television station, which also accused the archdiocese of pressuring District Attorney Joseph Freitas Jr. to keep the matter quiet. Freitas refused to comment on the charge.
The Rev. Miles O'Brien Riley, public information officer for the archdiocese, denied any cover-up attempt. "When it came to the attention of the archbishop and the chancellor (Msgr. Daniel F. Walsh), it was in the inner forum. There was no way for them to go public. They had this information in counseling confidence."
San Maung is accused of bilking at least 93 families of Epiphany Catholic Church, where he was an associate pastor, of more than $100,000 and of stealing some $12,000 directly from parish funds. The sums, borrowed usually under the pretext of bringing his brother form Burma to enable him to study for the priesthood ranged from $150 to $4,000 per loan.
The matter came to the chancery office's attention in May when the 42-year-old priest was being routinely assigned to a different parish. To parishioners who inquired about repayment, the priest replied that they would be reimbursed by the chancery office.
Chancery officials said they had immediately confronted San Maung who admitted that he had used the funds for gambling.
The priest agreed to make restitution, to seek professional counseling for his compulsive gambling, and to cease asking for loans, a church spokesman said. But Archbishop Quinn suspended San Maung immediately after it was learned that the priest was repeating the borrowing pattern in his new parish, according to the spokesman.
Riley, the church's press officer, said that Quinn has formed a special committee "in order to find legitimate means to try to make good the bad debts and regain the confidence of the many people who have suffered loss." He added: "Not only has money been taken -- over $100,000 -- but credibility has been taken: faith, trust. Things much more valuable than money. Things that cannot be paid or repaid."