By Tim O’Meilia
The titillating tale of two revered Roman Catholic pastors who skimmed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Sunday collection plates at a Delray Beach church and spent it on gambling trips, vacations in the Bahamas and airline tickets for female companions will end in prison for both men.
Already stripped of their Roman collars and their priestly powers, the two stood before separate judges last week — one already in jailhouse garb and the other in gray suit — and learned their future: 14 months in prison for John Skehan and four years for Francis Guinan.
Heartfelt pleas from St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church parishioners and fellow priests relating lifetimes of good works — especially on Skehan’s behalf — did not dissuade the judges from handing down prison terms.
“The crime of the defendant was pure greed unmasked,” said Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffery Colbath in sentencing Skehan, 82.
The ex-priest has repaid nearly $800,000 in restitution by turning over a condominium and a gold coin collection.
Judge Krista Marx, in a separate sentencing hearing, told Guinan, 66: “No matter how many your good works, your legacy will always be one of thievery and deceit.” He was also ordered to repay $99,999 restitution.
Neither may step foot on the grounds of St. Vincent again, the judges ordered.
Guinan, who was convicted by a six-member jury after a six-day trial, received a stiffer sentence even though his conviction was for grand theft of less than $100,000, while Skehan pleaded guilty to theft of more than $100,000.
Both prosecutors and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach said that restitution was enough for Skehan, who admitted his guilt and cooperated with police from the moment he was arrested in 2006.
“The fact that Father Skehan will no longer be able to function as a priest is a punishment in itself,” said the Rev. Charles Notabartolo, vicar general of the diocese.
Skehan spoke to the court in a soft voice before he was sentenced.
“I want to apologize to all those I have hurt. The pain for what I have done will never go away.”
Colbath cited the ex-priest’s remorse and his 40-year body of good works as one of the reasons he levied a lesser sentence than the 20-month minimum suggested by state sentencing guidelines.
In Guinan’s case, prosecutors asked for a five- to 10-year sentence. Marx dismissed as “unmitigated gall” Guinan’s defense that he was entitled to money for all the good he had done and that a $50,000 pastor’s discretionary fund had no bounds on how it could be spent.
The three-year saga of the scandal embarrassed the diocese, shocked parishioners and further damaged the already shaky status of priests. Said current St. Vincent pastor, the Very Rev. Tom Skindeleski, “I’m just glad it’s over.”