Police to Priests: Thou Shall Not Steal

By Vic Walter And Krista Kjellman

Sep 29, 2006 2:25pm

Secret bank accounts, gambling trips, cars, condos and paramours were all part of what police say was a multi-million dollar theft of church funds by two priests. Detectives of the Delray Beach Police Department have charged two retired priests with stealing $8.6 million of church money during the time they served as pastors at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Fla. Former pastor Father John Skehan, pictured on the left, was arrested and charged with grand theft of over $100,000.  His replacement as pastor of St. Vincent, Father Francis Guinan, pictured on the right, was also charged with grand theft, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. According to a probable cause affidavit, over the course of decades, both priests hid money from the offertory collections and deposited the stolen cash into at least three separate slush fund accounts. The two spent the stolen cash lavishly on personal expenses.  For Father Guinan, that meant he allegedly spent the cash on gambling getaways to Las Vegas and the Bahamas and thousands  of dollars in high school tuition payments for his girlfriend’s son.  For Father Skehan, he allegedly owned a condominium with an appraised value of almost half a million dollars and a pub in Kilkenny, Ireland. Police started the investigation of Fathers Skehan and Guinan after a parishioner sent an anonymous letter to authorities, citing concerns that an internal church audit would fail to disclose the missing money. The Palm Beach Diocese said it conducted a special audit and investigation once the allegations against the two priests arose.  In a statement posted on the diocese’s web site, Bishop Gerald Barbarito said, "We intend to continue to cooperate fully and to fulfill the requirements of justice." As to the current status of Fathers Skehan and Guinan in the church, the bishop said, "Until such time as this matter is concluded in the criminal courts, Fathers Guinan and Skehan are being placed on administrative leave and will not have permission to exercise publicly their priestly ministry."   

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