Priestin' Ain't Easy

For a couple of Delray padres, the high life allegedly got in the way of their priestly duties

With Guinan gone, the diocese launched an audit of the finances at St. Vincent's during his 20-month rule. The initial task involved sorting good money from bad. Several secret accounts in the name of the church were recovered, but plenty of money had simply been spent — though church members say St. Vincent's itself is on sound financial ground.

Among other things, diocesan auditors discovered: $446,249.22 in deposits made to accounts at Wachovia during Guinan's rule that weren't reflected in parish books; $1 million in a secret Smith Barney account in the name of the church; and another $2 million secret account in the name of the school. There were also six checks to Carol Hagen that totaled $43,000, plus $7,270 additional tuition for Hagen's son at Cardinal Newman; $53,325 paid to Hilda Nataline; and roughly $75,000 in payments to Frank Guinan and his credit cards.

When questioned by detectives, Hagen said that Father Guinan paid for her son's private school tuition for seven straight years; she thought nothing of it, saying she believed such perks were standard for children of church employees. She talked about how Guinan, Skehan, and another priest once invested in two race horses in Ireland and in real estate.

Tony Gleeson
A statue of St. Vincent Ferrer welcomes worshipers in front of the church sanctuary on a sun-drenched day.
C. Stiles
A statue of St. Vincent Ferrer welcomes worshipers in front of the church sanctuary on a sun-drenched day.

She recounted traveling to Las Vegas with Guinan on at least 10 occasions, plus trips to Georgia, the Bahamas, and Ireland. In Vegas, she said, the couple would stay at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, where Guinan would get special room rates for being a frequent visitor.

When pushed to describe her relationship with Father Guinan, Hagen said it was "no great love affair, trust me."

The diocese hired a forensic accounting firm to dig deeper, into the years when retired Rev. John Skehan led the congregation.

The ladies who had helped Father Skehan sort the church finances say they never suspected he was pocketing funds. They understood his feelings about the diocese, which he called "corrupt." They believed the multiple accounts and covert deposits were meant exclusively to hide wealth from the diocese.

They made several trips to the bank each week, careful to keep deposits below $10,000 so as not to arouse suspicion. If a bank teller commented on the generosity of church members, Skehan would switch banks.

Colleen Head, especially, had trouble seeing the elderly Skehan as a crook — even though she had glimpsed some of his darkest hours.

Skehan clearly had intense feelings for the young woman, while she thought of him as a grandfather. He doted on her, wined-and-dined her, even paid for her to travel with him to Ireland in the summer of 1999, when she was 21. It was on that trip to Ireland that Head got her first glance at Skehan's true feelings for her, she says. Head would later cooperate with detectives, going so far as to turn over a diary she kept during her trip to Ireland. She told detectives in 2006 that she had realized, by then, that she was "mixed up with a really bad guy."

In the diary, Head described how Skehan was jealous that she was spending so much time with his nephew Sean during the visit to Ireland. "He is obsessed with me, looks at me constantly, follows me around like a sick dog," wrote Head. "I Hate Him!"

"He came to me last night, was crying all over me, I was repulsed. I had no sympathy for the Pig, he can go kiss off... I know he has some sick fantasy about me being in his cottage."

When Head got back to Florida, she forgave Skehan for his dirty old man act. But, occasionally, he'd still launch into drunken speeches about how he'd leave the priesthood for her if he were younger. "He gets drunk and I'm the most beautiful thing," Head explained to investigators.

She said she often cleaned up after Skehan. Head remembered fetching the priest from bars when he got intoxicated and lecturing him once about letting a woman sit on his lap in a public place.

Father Thomas Skindeleski arrived at St. Vincent's in November 2005 from Our Lady Queen of the Apostles in Royal Palm Beach. He promised transparency and accountability for the 7,300 parishioners at St. Vincent's . He created a parish financial council that he said would have "real teeth," and he commented on the controversy in the church's weekly bulletin.

Parishioners whispered about the changes, and the alleged misdeeds. Then the story broke in late September 2006, grabbing national and international headlines. Police described Fathers Guinan and Skehan as professional money launderers who invested in real estate and took trips to casinos with girlfriends. Reporters swarmed the parish, stopping even school children in an effort to get comments from the church community.

Speaking with investigators, Skehan admitted to having diverted church donations into bank accounts hidden from the diocese. That way, he explained, he could eliminate bureaucracy by keeping some expenses off the books. Anything that he skimmed from the collection plates — by Skehan's estimates, perhaps $1,000 to $3,000 a week — he felt was deserved since, in his opinion, he had never been well-compensated. Skehan identified his chief indulgence as being rare gold coins. He offered to turn over $300,000 worth of coins to the diocese. (For the time being, the coins are in police custody.) He also confessed to having used St. Vincent's funds to pay a monthly stipend to a former parish bookkeeper.

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