MIAMI, March 9 — One of two Roman Catholic priests accused of stealing and misappropriating as much as $8.6 million donated by parishioners in South Florida sought to end an audit of church finances, complaining to diocesan officials that the financial scrutiny was undignified and a waste of money, according to documents released by prosecutors.
The priest, the Rev. Frank Guinan, 64, of St. Vincent Ferrer Church in Delray Beach, wrote that the audit, which eventually led to a criminal investigation and charges of grand theft, was “demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating.”
In his letter, dated October 2003 and made public on Thursday as part of the pretrial discovery process, Father Guinan suggested that the cost of financial review would be better spent teaching the congregation about the savings the church derives from priestly sacrifice.
“The laity need to be informed as to how central the clergy and religious are to the mission of the church,” Father Guinan wrote. “That their commitment and sacrifice are without parallel. They devote their lives to the church with little thought for personal gain. They are generous, charitable and compassionate. They have earned and deserve trust, at least until it is proven otherwise.”
At the time of his letter, Father Guinan had just succeeded the Rev. John A. Skehan, 79, the pastor for four decades. The audit was a standard step in the transfer, and after Father Guinan sought to delay it, church employees spoke to the police. A bookkeeper and other workers described two sets of deposit books for church donations, and investigators identified several church bank accounts used by Father Skehan as “slush funds.”
The diocesan audit eventually reported finding $3 million in off-book investment accounts. Father Guinan adopted Father Skehan’s bank accounts and methods, the police said.
Forensic accountants used statistics, including census figures dating from 1963, to extrapolate the amount of tithed money that might have been misappropriated over the years, settling on an estimate of $8.6 million.
Father Skehan was arrested in September at Palm Beach International Airport, and Father Guinan turned himself in a month later at Miami International Airport. Both priests were charged with grand theft of more than $100,000. They pleaded not guilty and were each released on $400,000 bail.
Church employees told the police of limousine trips to Miami Beach, dinners at the renowned Joe’s Stone Crabs restaurant and expensive homes around the world. Investigators said they had documented tens of thousands of dollars in payments to the priests’ credit cards.
A former church employee, Colleen Head, who had worked for the church since 1992, described Father Guinan as a gambler and heavy drinker, according to police reports.
The Associated Press quoted a police report as saying Father Guinan had had an intimate relationship with a former bookkeeper at another church. The A.P. said Denis Hamel, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Palm Beach, had told the police that Father Guinan had paid the woman’s credit card bills and her child’s tuition with church money.
A lawyer for Father Guinan, David Roth, did not return a call seeking comment. A lawyer for Father Skehan, Scott Richardson, declined to comment on the documents.