Bishop apologizes to parish where priests are accused of theft

The bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach apologized to parishioners of a church where two Irish former pastors allegedly stole and misappropriated US$8.6 million (about Ђ6.8 million) in offerings and gifts.

"I'm truly, truly, truly sorry," the Rev. Gerald Barbarito told parishioners attending Sunday Mass 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 US$400,000 (Ђ316,000) bond Friday.

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

Police said Skehan and Guinan spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of the 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."

In Skehan's hometown, Johnstown in County Kilkenny, Ireland, residents said the priest they knew was shy but highly regarded, reports AP.

"I can tell you the man had no air of ostentation. There were no signs of affluence. He drove the family car when he visited on his holidays," the Rev. Frank Maher, pastor of St. Kieran's Catholic Church, said Saturday.

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