Priests fleeced Florida flock
Cops: Priests fleeced Florida flock of millions
POSTED: 8:52 p.m. EDT, September 28, 2006
DELRAY BEACH, Florida (AP) -- Two Roman Catholic priests stole millions in
offerings and gifts made to their parish as far back as 40 years ago,
prosecutors said Thursday.
Monsignor John Skehan, who was pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church
for four decades, was arrested Wednesday night on charges that he stole $8.6
million from the church, using the money to buy property and other assets,
The 79-year-old priest was arrested at Palm Beach International Airport as
he returned from Ireland and was being held on $400,000 bond on grand theft
The Rev. Francis Guinan, who succeeded Skehan three years ago, has
disappeared and was being sought, city police and the Florida Department of
Law Enforcement said. He is alleged to have stolen an unspecified amount of
money to take gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
Guinan had an "intimate relationship" with a former bookkeeper at St.
Patrick's Catholic Church, where he'd previously worked, according to a
police report. Denis Hamel, the chief financial officer for the Diocese of
Palm Beach, told police Guinan had paid the woman's American Express bills
and her child's school tuition with funds from St. Vincent's that were not
recorded on the church books.
"Millions of dollars that should have gone to helping the homeless folks or
the school itself" didn't, said Amos Rojas Jr., a special agent with the
Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
An anonymous tip in June 2005 led police and the church to launch the
An audit of church books detected the theft and the investigation continues
to find possible misappropriation, said Preston Mighdoll, assistant state
attorney in Palm Beach County.
Investigators say Skehan created several "slush" accounts, and instructed
church workers to funneled there to hide it from the Palm Beach Diocese. The
thefts began in 2001, police said.
Skehan is charged with grand theft of $100,000 or more between September
2001 and January 2006, while Guinan faces the same charge for activity from
September 2003 to April 2005.
Specifics about where most of the $8.6 million went or precisely how it was
taken were not included in court records.
Skehan's attorney, Ken Johnson, said he thought the multimillion dollar
figure was "over sensationalized."
"My reading of the probable cause affidavit indicates that the amount of
money he's actually accused of misappropriating amounts to about $325,000,
which is a far cry from $8.6 million," Johnson said.
Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach said the two priests
were placed on administrative leave and will not have permission "to
exercise publicly their priestly ministry" until the criminal matter is
Parishioners reacted with surprise to the news Thursday. Joan Kopins was
among a small group of parishioners leaving afternoon Mass at St. Vincent
Ferrer Church, which she has attended for more than 20 years. She wiped away
tears as she got into her car.
"You can't judge because you haven't walked in their shoes," Kopins said.
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. - Seneca