A fake priest was able to hear confessions and perform wedding ceremonies for almost two decades before being unmasked, a Roman Catholic diocese in Spain revealed on Monday.
Marriages and baptisms carried out by Miguel Angel Ibarra remain valid but confessions are not, a spokeswoman for the diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta said, even though the “grace of God acted” on the parishioners who were deceived.
Mr Ibarra moved to Spain from Colombia in October 2017 and had been in charge of the church in the village of Medina Sidonia, which is home to some 11,000 people, in the southern region of Andalusia.
Colombian church officials informed the diocese on December 13 that it had received an allegation that Mr Ibarra had forged his ordination documents.
After carrying out a “thorough investigation”, they had concluded that Mr Ibarra had indeed never been ordained, the Spanish diocese said in a statement.
The diocese added that Mr Ibarra, who was found out just days before Christmas, had been masquerading as an ordained priest for the past 18 years.
It added that he has now been ordered to return to his archdiocese of origin, Santa Fe de Antioquia, in Colombia.
In a statement, the diocese of Cadiz and Ceuta said it regretted that “events like this could overshadow the work of parishioners and ordained priests, who serve the Church every day in an exemplary way.”
Like in other increasingly secular European countries, Spain is finding it difficult to attract new recruits to the priesthood in recent years and has had to resort to importing priests, often from its former colonies in Latin America.