Delray Beach Priest pleads guilty to theft – runs down the hall
Rev. John Skehan pleaded guilty and ran down the hall Wednesday morning in court.
The Rev. Francis Guinan appeared in court briefly on Wednesday as state prosecutors tried to remove witnesses from the grand theft case against the former pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Sandra McSorley denied the state’s request to strike 20 witnesses submitted by defense attorneys on Dec. 16.
Fla. priest accused of theft pleads guilty
Both priests had pleaded not guilty to grand theft. But on Wednesday, as jury selection was set to begin in West Palm Beach, Skehan changed his plea to guilty. His attorney says Skehan accepts responsibility for the crime.
The trial is now delayed for Guinan.
Authorities say this could be one of the biggest embezzlement cases to hit the U.S. Catholic Church.
Florida trial set for 2 priests accused of theft
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two priests who authorities say for years stole cash from their Florida church’s offering plate and hid it in the church ceiling and offshore bank accounts to pay for lavish lifestyles will soon face a judge.
Their trial is scheduled to start Wednesday in an embezzlement case authorities say could be one of the biggest to hit the U.S. Catholic Church.
Before prosectutors could charge them with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church, the Rev. Francis Guinan and Monsignor John Skehan fled the country in 2006, leaving their parishioners amid an international scandal.
Skehan’s attorney wrote in a recent court filing that an “amicable resolution” has been reached in his client’s case that will be presented to the court Wednesday, indicating a possible plea deal. Skehan attorney Scott Richardson did not return several calls for comment.
The accusations shocked parishioners, who said they never suspected anything and recalled how the kindly Skehan, 81, loved to read to their children.
Some credit him for growing the seaside church’s flock from a few hundred to several thousand.
Days before the trial was to begin, some parishioners who headed in for evening Mass said the church wasn’t focusing on the trial. Others still feel the scandal.
“You feel betrayed by people that you trust,” said Laura Beck, whose three children attend the church’s school. “People were not expecting that.”
Guinan, 66, is accused of stealing $488,000 during the 19 months after he became pastor in September 2003. Skehan, who had been at the church 40 years, is accused of taking $370,000 between 2001 and 2006, the timeframe under which he can be charged because of a statute of limitations. Auditors think he stole more than $8 million over 20 years.
Both face up to 30 years if convicted.
Prosecutors say the priests plucked cash from the offering plate and spent it on upscale homes, gambling trips to Las Vegas with a mistress, even a $275,000 rare coin collection.
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