CV NEWS FEED // A diocese in central California issued a warning this week about two imposters posing as clergymen from Mexico who are charging high fees to issue certificates for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and First Communion.
According to the Diocese of Stockton, two unidentified men are using the names of at least two actual clergymen from the archdiocese of Toluca, Mexico: Archbishop Raúl Gómez González of Toluca and Father José Adán González Estrada.
“The Diocese strongly advises the public not to be deceived by these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing,’” the warning read.
The diocese issued the warning October 20, warning that in the city of Modesto, CA, “individuals purporting to be Spanish-speaking Catholic bishops and priests engage in fraudulent activities related to the sacraments and sacramentals. These imposters are misappropriating the identities of genuine priests in Mexico and conducting unauthorized celebrations of baptism, confirmation, First Communion, and house blessings under false pretenses.”
According to Erin Haight, Director of Media and Communications for the Diocese of Stockton, the imposters are charging people “thousands and thousands of dollars” for anything from health blessings to confirmations to seats at the ceremonies.
The Diocese of Stockton worked with the Archdiocese of Toluca to verify the situation.
The diocese is also working with Modesto law enforcement on the issue, but noted “that only individuals who have personally fallen victim to these imposters can file complaints and initiate investigations.”
Haight told NBC News, “The problem is these knuckleheads are preying on undocumented immigrants, migrant workers, people who might be afraid to go to law enforcement. So we decided to get the word out so more people aren’t victimized.”
“Anyone victimized by these imposters is urged to dial 911 without hesitation and report the crime,” the warning read. “It’s imperative to note that the police do not inquire about the caller’s immigration status; their primary concern is combating criminal activities.”
Along with charging expensive fees, falsely administering sacraments, and teaching classes, the diocese reported that the imposters were demanding “submission of birth certificates for individuals participating in these sacraments, raising concerns about human trafficking and identity theft.”
The warning also highlighted that Catholic sacraments are administered in Catholic churches, “with few exceptions.”
“Celebrations of baptism, confirmation, and First Communion in outdoor locations like parks are not aligned with established Catholic practices,” the diocese noted.
When parishioners questioned the imposters’ identity or authority, the imposters used intimidation tactics, such as making legal threats against individuals, the diocese said, “although these threats lack substance.”
The Diocese of Stockton has 35 parishes, two Catholic high schools, 11 elementary schools, and eight preschools.
The imposters’ real identities have not yet been discovered.