Two California nuns who stole around $500 000 from the school where they worked and splashed out on travel and gambling in Las Vegas are facing criminal charges, their order confirmed on Tuesday.
Sisters Mary Margaret Kreuper and Lana Chang, who are said to be best friends, reportedly embezzled the huge sum over the course of a decade from St James Catholic School in Torrance, south of Los Angeles.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the money was discovered missing during a routine audit after Kreuper, who was principal at the school for 29 years, retired earlier this year. Chang was a teacher at the school for 20 years and also retired this year.
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".
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.