SYDNEY, N.S. _ A Cape Breton priest says he will forgive the thief who stole several thousand dollars from his church ahead of the holidays if he comes forward now.

“I think forgiveness is very important for every Christian, and I’m a Catholic priest, so I should be an example of that,” said Father Patrick O’Neill of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Sydney River, N.S.

The stolen $4,000 came from ticket sales for holiday fundraising events, and O’Neill said the envelope of cash had been taken out of the church secretary’s desk on Sunday, Dec. 16.

He said he first noticed the money was missing when he walked by the office after 6 p.m. mass and noticed the secretary’s door was slightly ajar.

“I thought that maybe she left it open by accident, which was not normal,” he said. “I looked at the door casing and I noticed it was cracked, and somebody would’ve had to have kicked it open, or use their shoulder and basically broke in.”

He said the church has video evidence of the theft, and he recognized the man caught on tape.

The church has insurance, so O’Neill said he wasn’t worried about the financial loss though he said that doesn’t take away from his disappointment about the incident.

“I’ve been a priest for 16 years now, and that’s never happened to me before. You feel violated when someone comes into your place and takes things that belong to the people of the parish,” he said.

But he added:  “I feel bad for his own circumstances which would drive him to make that choice: to steal from anyone, especially a church.”

O’Neill said he hopes the thief will have a  “change of heart.”

“Personally I would be very open to anyone who wants to be forgiven in any particular way for what they’ve done,” he said.

Cape Breton Regional Police have confirmed they’re investigating the theft.

By Alex Cooke in Halifax

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