By Cynthia Thuma
The criminal cases against former St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church priests Francis Guinan, 66, and John Skehan, 82, are now completed and the Diocese of Palm Beach has begun trying to separate fact from rumor in issues related and unrelated to the criminal cases.
The diocese stripped the two of their priestly powers and both were sentenced to prison — 14 months for Skehan and four years for Guinan after they were found guilty of skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Delray Beach church.
In the wake of their sentencing, the church and the diocese have been trying to reopen lines of communication between the church and the faithful.
Over the weekend of March 28-29, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito released a statement that was read at the diocese’s 53 parishes and missions. In part, it reads: “This has been a very long and painful period for our diocese. I am grateful for the usual faith and patience exhibited by our people and especially that of the people of the parishes of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Patrick. I am also grateful for the well-deserved support shown to our hard-working and responsible priests, who do not receive publicity for the good work they do day in and day out.”
In his message, the bishop vowed to provide more information on efforts to recover and return skimmed assets.
“I also wish to assure all that we will continue our best efforts at every level to ensure the highest standards of financial accountability within our diocese,” Barbarito noted.
The diocese also sought to assure parents whose children attend St. Vincent Ferrer School that a $1,000-per-child tuition increase for the 2009-2010 school year was not tied to the cases against the two priests, but did hinder communications.
“The ongoing criminal matter, as well as our own internal investigations related to these cases, prevented us from sharing information before both processes concluded,” wrote Alexis Walkenstein, director of communications for the Diocese of Palm Beach, via e-mail. “Now that the criminal matter has finally reached a conclusion, the Diocese of Palm Beach can move forward with further disclosure regarding the restitution component to the lay faithful.”
The tuition increase, Walkenstein wrote, was determined by the parish’s finance council. A PowerPoint presentation on the proposed increase was made at a school meeting with parents on Jan. 27. Walkenstein noted parents also were provided a flier with additional information related to the proposed increase. Further, budget information items regarding the school and church’s budget were reported in several weekly parish bulletins.