Delray Beach priest pleads guilty

By Chuck Weber - email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - Father John Skehan stood in a West Palm Beach courtroom Wednesday, pleading guilty to stealing more than $100,000 from a Delray Beach church. After the hearing, Rev. Skehan dashed down the hall to avoid reporters.

Skehan and co-defendant Father Francis Guinan both served at St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach. Police say the pair ultimately took millions in church money, using it for overseas property, girlfriends, and gambling trips. Guinan continues to fight the criminal charge against him.

Rev. Skehan does not have an agreed deal with prosecutors, so he throws himself at the mercy of a judge for sentencing. Under the law, the 81-year old Skehan faces between just under 2 years in prison to 30 years. But Skehan's lawyer Scott Richardson points out, with sufficient reason, a judge can go below the range of sentences. Skehan could conceivably get off with probation.

Richardson said after the hearing, "Father Skehan from day one has admitted responsibility and been remorseful. Because he's been a priest for over 50 years, he would like an opportunity to bring to the attention of the court, all the good things he's done in this community and around the world."

Mary Anne Lantz, who attends St. Vincent's Parish, came to court for Father Skehan's guilty plea. Is she disappointed? "Well of course," replied Lantz. "You always get disappointed in people you hold above reproach, as far as your leaders, whether it be in politics or whether it be in religious life."

"Father Skehan may have entered a plea, but his situation is quite a bit different than ours," observed Richard Barlow, lawyer for Father Guinan. Barlow says his accounting expert has already found $134,000 deposited into church accounts, which prosecutors claimed Guinan took. Barlow insists his client stole nothing.

What about the supposed lavish lifestyle of his client? Barlow responded, "Priests are paid stipends to perform marriage, baptisms, funerals. It's cash in their pockets. They are also given tremendous other benefits while at the church and they have almost no living expense. So the public might be very surprised at what priests are actually paid."

Guinan was given a February 18 trial date. Skehan's sentencing is set for March 20.