Two nuns ask for forgiveness and prayers after admitting using a Californian school's funds for Vegas trips over a period of at least ten years.
Two Catholic school nuns in California have admitted to embezzling about $694,000 AUD, and using the funds for travel and gambling in Las Vegas, their order said on Monday.
Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang, who are said to be best friends, took the money from tuition, fees and donations at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, south of Los Angeles.
"We do know that they had a pattern of going on trips. We do know they had a pattern of going to casinos, and the reality is, they used the account as their personal account," an attorney for the school told parents and alumni at a recent meeting, according to local press reports.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the missing money was discovered during a routine audit and it is believed the nuns operated their scheme over at least a decade.
The nuns' order confirmed it had been informed the Archdiocese had filed a criminal complaint against the pair.
"As a religious community we will not defend the actions of our Sisters. What happened is wrong. Our Sisters take full responsibility for the choices they made and are subject to the law," it said in a statement to AFP.
It added the two sisters have been removed from their residence, placed in a religious house under supervision, and banned from all public ministry.
"This has definitely been shocking to the entire school and parish community," Adrian Alarcon, head of media relations for the Archdiocese, told AFP.
She added the case was all the more disquieting given the Church's teachings that clearly spell out "thou shall not steal."
Kreuper was principal at the school for 29 years until her retirement earlier this year. Chang was a teacher for 20 years and she also retired this year.
"Our community is concerned and saddened by this situation and regret any injury to our long relationship with the families of the school," the Sister of St Joseph of Carondelet, the nuns' order, said in a statement.
"The Sisters of St Joseph both desire and intend to make complete restitution to St James School."
Parents were informed about the nuns' misdeeds in a November 28 letter from the school's pastor, Monsignor Michael Meyers.
The letter states that Kreuper and Chang had taken a "substantial" amount of school funds for their personal use and the matter was uncovered during an audit conducted after Kreuper's retirement.
"Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana have expressed to me and asked that I convey to you, the deep remorse they each feel for their actions and ask for your forgiveness and prayers," Meyers wrote. "They and their order pray that you have not lost trust or faith in the educators and administrators of the school."
He added that no other school staff were implicated in the theft and that police had been alerted.
The order on Monday said Kreuper and Chang admitted to their misdeeds and were cooperating to determine the full amount of money taken.
The sisters expressed remorse over their actions in a letter shared with parents at a school meeting last week, and their order has vowed to make full restitution.
"Justice demands this of us," it said in its statement.
The nuns allegedly got away with their crime by depositing some checks made out to the school for tuition and other fees into a bank account different than the one used by the school.