God helps those who help themselves. I once thought of becoming a man of God, but it seemed far too dishonest. As a kid, I watched the Jim Baker scandal and said to myself…if I want money and chicks I need to either go into religion, politics, or media. As it stands now, I am involved with all three. I just want to point out that far from condeming these priests, they have earned my admiration. No one was hurt in their exploits. They made money the same way that most business people do. They probably helped more people along the way too.
MIAMI (Reuters) – Two Roman Catholic priests allegedly misappropriated more than $8 million from their church and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends, police in Florida said on Friday.
The retired priests were accused of skimming cash from collection plates and bequests to the St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Florida, over a period of years and channeling the money into secret “slush funds” they used to pay personal bills, Delray Beach police said.
Former St. Vincent pastor John Skehan, 79, was arrested on a charge of grand theft over $100,000 and was being held in the Palm Beach County jail on a $400,000 bond.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of Father Francis Guinan, 63, on the same charge. He was on a cruise in Australia but had contacted the police, the Palm Beach Post reported.
“We believe that our investigation has shown that the two allegedly have misappropriated more than $8 million and have used it for personal use or for other purchases,” said Paige Patterson-Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Some of the things we believe were allegedly purchased included real estate, coins and travel,” she said.
According to a police affidavit, Skehan invested heavily in rare coins, once buying $275,000 worth in a single day. He owned a cottage and a pub in Ireland, a penthouse condo worth $455,000 in Singer Island, Florida, and another condo in Delray Beach, the document said.
The thefts took took place over a period of years when Skehan served as St. Vincent parish priest and continued when Guinan took over as pastor three years ago, police said.
Some of the misappropriated funds may have benefited the church, Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer said.
“They were skimming cash out of the offering plates and other donations that came into the church,” he said. “They were spending some on church projects and they were spending a lot on themselves, for vacations, buying properties, gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas, and alleged girlfriends.”
“We can prove several hundred thousand has been spent on personal use by each of them. They may have done some good for the church,” Messer said, adding that a church audit covered more than four decades that Skehan served at the church.
A lawyer for Skehan was not immediately available for comment.
The Diocese of Palm Beach said it started investigating allegations of missing funds around April of 2005, about a month before police launched their own probe following an anonymous tip.
A forensic accounting firm hired by the Diocese found that $8,690,593 was misappropriated during the tenures of Skehan and Guinan, the police affidavit said.
It said a female bookkeeper at a Palm Beach County church with whom Guinan allegedly had an “intimate” relationship received $47,000 from the slush funds in 2004.
A witness cited in the document characterized Guinan as a “gambler and heavy drinker.”
“She recalled Guinan taking vacations to Las Vegas and the Bahamas … she began to wonder how Guinan could afford to live what she called a lavish lifestyle on a priest’s salary,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit quoted as witness saying Skehan paid a girlfriend under the table and paid off a car loan for her with money from the church.