GARDNER, Kan. - The Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas is looking into alleged financial irregularities at Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner, and has removed the pastor.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann placed Reverend Joseph Cramer on administrative leave effective immediately, until a thorough investigation can be completed.
The Archdiocese has also notified the Johnson County District Attorney's office, which declined comment at this time.
In a release, The Archdiocese said "it has not yet been able to confirm whether money is missing, or, if so, how much. The initial investigation clearly shows that proper internal controls were not observed."
Reverend Cramer maintains he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
Reverend John Riley, chancellor of the archdiocese, has been appointed administrator of Divine Mercy Parish.
Archbishop Naumann said he takes management of financial gifts very seriously, and "asks for prayers and patience, and, in turn, promise a transparent and timely report."
Divine Mercy parishioners told 41 Action News they were shocked by the news, which was announced during Sunday masses.
"He's been a shepherd, he's been a leader and he's done so many good things for this parish," Donald Harley, who recently joined Divine Mercy, said.
Dawn Teager, another parishioner, said Reverend Cramer is the reason she became a Catholic in the first place. Teager cited his welcoming presence, especially when he interacted with kids.
"He welcomes them with high fives and suckers, and it is not unusual to see him pick up a child that is crying during mass and hold them while he is talking. He creates an atmosphere that is relaxed, warm and inviting, and it makes you feel loved," she wrote in a message to 41 Action News.
Amid the financial investigation, parishioners said they are standing by their church leader.
"We want Father Joe to know that he has our support, he has our prayers and he has our love," Hartley said.