Essex County OPP have arrested a Windsor priest and charged him with theft, following a lengthy investigation.

Father Robert Couture, the former priest at Ste. Anne Parish in Tecumseh, is charged with one count of theft over $5,000, after Ontario Provincial Police say an audit of the parish's accounts revealedĀ at leastĀ $169,000 in irregularities.

Police say officials from the parish first contacted them in August 2011, regarding an alleged internal theft that occurred between 2002 and 2010.

Mark Adkinson, communications director for the Diocese of London, said Couture had taken a leave of absence from the parish in 2010 for personal reasons.

"Whenever there's a change in the pastor at a parish, we do an audit of the parish," he said. "It's usually not that big of a deal, but in this case, auditors found some things that raised some questions for them."

He said the parish then asked KPMG to carry out a forensic audit, which found thousands of dollars in "missing funds," prompting the parish to contact police.

"This is going to come as a huge shock to the parishioners" at Ste. Anne, Adkinson said. "That's one of the reasons why we felt that we needed to go to the police with this information, and actually go public with what we've done and the steps that we take to ensure that the money people give to their church is safe."

Couture is due to appear in Court on May 14, 2013.