Bishop apologizes for thefts

Two Palm Beach priests are accused of stealing and misappropriating $8.6-million in offerings and gifts.

Published October 3, 2006

DELRAY BEACH - The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach apologized to parishioners of a church where two former pastors allegedly stole and misappropriated $8.6-million in offerings and gifts.

"I'm truly, truly, truly sorry," the Rev. Gerald Barbarito told Sunday Mass worshipers at St. Vincent Ferrer Church.

"Priests are humans, and they make mistakes," Barbarito said. "Some make mistakes we can certainly understand. Others, not so. Sexual abuse, stealing money, we cannot understand this. Prayer is our strongest resource. The Lord is the only perfect one, and we rely on his strength."

Monsignor John Skehan, who was pastor at St. Vincent Ferrer for four decades, was arrested Wednesday after returning from his native Ireland.

He was released on $400,000 bail Friday.

Also accused of theft is the Rev. Francis Guinan, another native of Ireland who succeeded Skehan three years ago. He is still being sought, city police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.

Police said Skehan and Guinan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of offering money on car payments, rare coins, property in Palm Beach County and Ireland, and other personal expenses.

Some parishioners said the allegations shocked them.

"All I kept saying when I heard about this was, 'Why would they do it?' " said Annette Benoit, of Boynton Beach. "There are so many poor people, so many charities that could have used this money."

Skehan and Guinan are on administrative leave and cannot "exercise publicly their priestly ministry" until the criminal matter is resolved, according to the diocese.