Two Irish-born priests are facing charges in Florida of skimming millions over a period of years from their prosperous Delray Beach parish.
The alleged thefts go back forty years with the money being used to support gambling, lavish lifestyles and, according to the police department probable cause affidavit, alleged “paramours.”
The Revs. John Skehan of County Kilkenny and Francis Guinan, a native of County Offaly, faces charges of grand theft exceeding $100,000.
However, according to prosecutors, the grand total in the alleged thefts over four decades exceeds $8.6 million.
Rev. Skehan, 79, who is a retired monsignor and who served as pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church on George Bush Boulevard in Delray Beach, was arrested last week at Palm Beach International Airport. He had just returned from Ireland.
Monsignor Skehan, who is now free on a $400,000 bond, was charged with stealing $8.6 million from the church over the 40 years and using the money to buy property, both in Florida and Ireland.
His successor as pastor, Guinan, is facing charges of misappropriating offertory funds by depositing them into a bank account.
Guinan, 63, has been outside the U.S. in recent days.
A spokesman at the Delray Police department, Jeff Messer, told the Echo that Guinan was due to present himself to law enforcement but as of presstime he was not aware that he had done so.
The priest is expected to report specifically to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office but a check on the office’s booking blotter indicated no record of Guinan having been formally booked as of Tuesday.
There were unconfirmed reports that he was on a cruise.
According to the police affidavit, as suspicions of financial impropriety grew, the diocese of Palm Beach hired a firm of accountants to investigate parish finances at St. Vincent Ferrer.
According to the affidavit, based on the analysis and calculations of the accountancy the firm, Michaelson and Company of West Palm Beach, “$8,690,593 of offertory cash was misappropriated during the tenures of Fr. John Skehan and Fr. Francis Guinan.”
According to the affidavit, forensic analysis identified “slush funds” that misappropriated money was transferred to instead of the parish operating fund.
The affidavit listed property owned by Fr. Skehan including a condo in Deerfield Beach and another on Riviera Beach, Fla. It also pointed to a cottage near the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and a pub in Kilkenny.
The affidavit included a statement by a witness that Skehan at one point had bought approximately $250,000 in coins from a Texas dealer.
“These guys lived the life they told everyone else not to live. And they lived it on everyone’s else’s dime,” the police department’s Jeff Messer said in a statement to reporters.
Last Sunday, the head of the diocese of Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito apologized to parishioners at St. Vincent Ferrer.
“I’m truly, truly, truly sorry,” the Palm Beach Post reported the bishop as saying. He was greeted with a standing ovation.
Meanwhile, investigators are alleging that Skehan used in excess of $130,000 in stolen parish money to cover expenses incurred by a “paramour.”
Guinan is alleged to have spent at least $90,000 on travel, including trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas. A witness statement on the affidavit described Guinan as a gambler and heavy drinker.
The investigation by the State Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies was prompted by a letter from “a concerned parishioner” written in April of last year.
The letter, to State Attorney Barry Krischer, referred to the removal from ministry of Guinan and an internal audit by the diocese to see if there had been any misappropriation of funds.
The letter, a copy of which was also sent at the time to the Sun Sentinel newspaper, stated a belief that the audit also covered the tenure of Monsignor Skehan.
“As a longtime parishioner,” the anonymous author wrote, “I am concerned that the information found from this audit will remain a secret with the church, hence no criminal charges will be brought if the suspicions are found to be true.
“Since the money came from the parishioners, I believe it is our right to have the state’s attorney’s office investigate the matter and charges pressed if criminal activity has been found.”