MIAMI (AP) _ A policeman and his wife have been arrested on charges of stealing from the collection plate at church, and their priest has asked parishioners to forgive the couple.

''I stand before you to seek your prayers and your compassion for those involved, to whom we extend our forgiving hands, our prayers and support as they face the justice of our land through legal proceedings,'' the Rev. Juan Sosa told his flock Sunday at St. James Catholic Church.

Some parishioners were a little hesitant about forgiving.

''I'll pray for them, but it's hard,'' said Dan Summers. ''There are rules you just shouldn't break.''

Metro-Dade police officer George Michaels, who headed an eight-member committee that counted parish offerings, and his wife Maureen were arrested and accused of taking at least $8,000 during four successive Sunday collections, police said. He was suspended from the force without pay.

Priests had become suspicious because while church membership was growing and fund-raising events were doing well, the collections at Sunday Masses were disappointing, Sosa said.

Church officials called police after discovering a discrepancy of about $1,500 between the weekly deposits Michaels took to the bank and what was deposited. The priests collaborated with detectives who replaced the church collections with marked money during the past two Sundays.

Sosa said that since his parishioners have learned of the missing collections, they have gone out of their way to be helpful.

''I thank you because I never knew before how generous you were and how selfless you have been to help me and our staff in the operations of our parish,'' he said.