Friday, 16 November 2018

Catholic Morality News - Fleecing the Flock

Fr. Lenin Vargas-Gutierrez
Court docs allege priest lied about cancer diagnosis, sex addiction therapy and charity projects | Starkville Daily News

According to a report by Ryan Phillips in Starkville Daily News, Father Lenin Vargas-Gutierrez, a pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, MS, USA, in the Diocese of Jackson, is alleged to have hit on a novel solution to two problems: how to cover up the fact that he is HIV positive, and how to supplement his income and provide a living to which he feels entitled.

The report says:

According to a 37-page affidavit filed Friday by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Special Agent William G. Childers in U.S. District Court in Jackson, an ongoing investigation into Father Lenin Vargas-Gutierrez, a pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, shows the priest is accused of lying about being diagnosed with cancer and soliciting money from parishioners for treatment and other pet projects.

The Diocese of Jackson website confirmed the press report with:

Federal agents served search and seizure warrants on the chancery office and on St. Joseph Parish in Starkville on Wednesday, November 7. Their investigation centers on the financial activities of Father Lenin Vargas. As of this posting, no charges have been filed.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, and Sunday, Nov. 11, Father Jeffrey Waldrep shared the following statement with the parishioners of St. Joseph in Starkville and Corpus Christi Mission in Macon:

Earlier this week the government began an investigation of the financial administration of Saint Joseph in Starkville. Saint Joseph Parish and the Diocese of Jackson are cooperating with the investigation. Pending the resolution of the investigation, Father Lenin Vargas will not engage in any public ministry, and has been removed from all pastoral and financial administration. In the interim, Father Jeffrey Waldrep, the pastor of Annunciation in Columbus, will serve as administrator and Father Rusty Vincent will be responsible for all pastoral ministry at St. Joseph, Starkville and Corpus Christi, Macon. The continued spiritual and financial well being of St. Joseph Parish and Corpus Christi Mission is of the utmost importance, and we will continue to aid you both in sound fiscal management of all of your resources. Let us pray with trust that the Lord Jesus will shepherd us through this difficult time of upheaval and uncertainty.

After receiving complaints, Bishop Joseph Kopacz ordered an internal accounting audit of the Starkville Parish’s finances. After Bishop Kopacz’ staff conducted the audit, the Diocese placed fiscal constraints on Father Vargas’ spending and found that he was violating diocesan policy concerning soliciting charitable donations and demanded that he stop these activities and conduct no further charitable fundraising without first informing the diocese of these planned activities. Federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPPA, prohibits our discussion of Father Vargas’ medical condition — not only when we first learned of it, but also throughout the time period mentioned in the affidavit. In fact, HIPPA law continues to bind us today in that we can neither admit nor deny anything related to Rev. Vargas’ medical condition.

According to court documents, in 2014 Vargas was admitted to OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville suffering from 'breathing difficulties' . He spent a few days in hospital and was then discharged. He was given an HIV test but discharged himself without seeing his doctor. Soon after he began telling friends that he had been diagnosed with a rare cancer - Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia - a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Later, Vargas claimed the Diocese of Jackson was sending him to Canada for specialised treatment not available in the USA, and began regularly announcing from the pulpit that he was suffering from cancer and would be going to Canada for treatment and a GoFundMe account was set up to raise money for his travel and treatment. He also told friends that although he had health insurance, this was not adequate to cover his treatment in Canada. However, agents for the HHS discovered that the health insurance for priests in the Jackson diocese effectively covered all medical expenses.

One informant told a DHS agent that they learned from a reliable source that Vargas did not in fact have cancer but had been diagnosed with HIV in 2014. This information was passed to Bishop Joseph Kopacz in Jackson in 2015. No action appears to have been taken.

According to records subpoenaed by agents for the DHS, 57 people donate $9,210 to Vargas' GoFundMe account. He also received a donation of $2,300 as a 'love offering' from the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Macon, Mississippi. Between March 21 and April 21, 2015, $20,021.69 was deposited in Vargas’ Regions account and he was presented with a cheque for $21,500 from the Jackson diocese on November 11, 2015, of which $19,00 was for his 'medical expenses'. Between November 19 and December 21, 2015, $33,574.04 was deposited into Vargas’ Regions account.

The records show that between March and April, 2016, of the $20,021.69 deposited, $13,476.18 was withdrawn. Similarly, of the $33,574.04 between November and December, 2015, $32,651.50 was withdrawn.

In addition to his alleged medical expenses scam, DHS agents have discovered that Vargas was raising funds for non-existent charities in Mexico, grooming parishioners by taking them to dinners which were ultimately paid for out of parish funds. One such 'charity' was a chapel on an unspecified mountain; the other was for an orphanage in Mexico. This 'orphanage' story seems to have evolved over time beginning in the slums of Morelia and later becoming a hostel for homeless children run by an ex-nun who took children into her own home. No details of the address of these charities have been provided and no receipts for donation exist.

Mission Statement
The mission of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson is to proclaim Jesus as Savior by living the Gospel, so that all people may experience the crucified and risen Lord.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

This mission statement, launched by Bishop Joseph Kopacz and his envisioning team in January, 2017, is just part of a new set of pastoral priorities for the Diocese of Jackson. Learn more about the priorities and how you can be a part of the new mission and vision here.

One parishioner alleges that they gave a cheque for $5000 to the St. Josephs parish but received a call from VArgus asking if the money could go to the 'orphanage' instead, to which the donor agreed. Another parishioner reported writing two cheques for $21,000 and $400 respectively for the chapel on the mountain. They had drawn this from their retirement fund.

Coverup.

In April 2025 Vargas told parishioners that he was gong to Canada for treatment for his alleged cancer. However, agents for DHS have discovered that he actually went to the Southdown Institute in Toronto which specialises in providing treatment for clergy with mental health and addiction problems. One of the addiction problems it deal with is sexual addiction.

It now appears that the Jackson diocese not only knew of Vargas's HIV status and that the cancer story was bogus and actively worked to perpetuate the deception to protect the Diocese from adverse publicity.

In March 2015, although aware of the truth according to an informant, Father Kevin Slattery, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Jackson, sent an email entitled “Announcement about Father Lenin Vargas.” This contained a message from Vargus repeating the claim that he was suffering from lymphoplasmascytic lymphoma and claiming that he had now developed diabetes as a result of his treatment.

According to Starkville Daily News, the court affidavit alleges:

...a meeting was held in October 2017 where a group of clergy notified Bishop Kopacz and Vicar General Slattery of concerns over the spiritual and financial wellbeing of St. Joseph Parish.

At the October 2017 meeting, the two leaders were allegedly told that Vargas was raising significant amounts of money for cancer treatment and unverified charitable causes. They were also informed that Vargas was making numerous trips to Mexico and there was money missing from the parish coffers.

Additionally, informants believe Vargas was pocketing money from Sunday collections when the collections were counted on Mondays.

Vargas supposedly became angry when he learned the Diocese was contacted following Sunday collection protocol and opposed putting a camera in the room that contained the collections.

According to the affidavit, the trips to Mexico also raised red flags because informants say Vargas utilized wire communications via Skype to communicate with a Mexican individual known as Sergio Picon.

The Skypes occurred on a daily basis and the informants believed Sergio Picon is a resident of Morelia, Mexico and owns a bar named Heaven and Hell - which Vargas attended the grand opening of this past summer.

Bishop Kopacz and Vicar General Slattery told the concerned clergy they would look into the issue, but never followed up with the clergy or the St. Joseph Parish counsel about the meeting, according to the affidavit.

Informants say Vicar General Slattery was aware Vargas was soliciting money from church parishioners for a Mexican orphanage and that he knew the story was at least in part a scam created by Vargas to get money.

Vicar General Slattery is then cited in the affidavit suggesting it would be better if Vargas not return to Mississippi after his "abbatical (sic)."

However, agents believe Vargas continued to solicit money from the parishioners, especially the “vulnerable elderly” and little was done by the Diocese of Jackson to protect parishioners.

Once again, if the DHS findings are proven, as with the ever-multiplying cases of child abuse and cover-up, we see the first priority of the Catholic Church is to try to protect the church from adverse publicity when the crimes of priests are discovered. In this instance, even lying to help a criminal priest continue with his crimes and fleece unsuspecting parishioners who thought they were trying to do what the Christian church exhorts them to do - help the sick and give to the poor.

Some moral compass that is!





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