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September 30, 2006

$8 Million Stolen From Parish -- Michael

By two priests.

By Jim Loney 16 minutes ago


MIAMI (Reuters) - Two Roman Catholic priests allegedly misappropriated more than $8 million from their church and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate, travel, rare coins and girlfriends, police in Florida said on Friday.

The retired priests were accused of skimming cash from collection plates and bequests to the St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach, Florida, over a period of years and channeling the money into secret "slush funds" they used to pay personal bills, Delray Beach police said.

Of course it's a shock that two priests would steal from their church.

The bigger shock is that the were able to pull it off. How the heck does $8 million disappear from a single church before someone notices? The priests are not the entire problem here. Someone was not minding the congregation's business.

Actually, I'm not that surprised. My career has moved me around the country, and I've had the opportunity to be a member of a number of churches. I've held various offices on occasion, including jobs as the congregational Treasurer and as the Chairman of the Finance Committee.

Every congregation is different, but they all have one thing in common -- their internal financial controls suck. Not one of them could pass the kind of audit conducted pursuant to the standards applicable to a business of comparable size.

Why are churches so lax? I think it's just the atmosophere of a church. The usual financial controls employed by businesses seem unnecessary when everyone is a brother or sister in Christ, and so trusts each other.

Unfortunately, the works of the Holy Spirit do not include excusing us from the consequences of ignoring GAAP.

Some of the misappropriated funds may have benefited the church, Delray Beach police spokesman Jeff Messer said.

"They were skimming cash out of the offering plates and other donations that came into the church," he said. "They were spending some on church projects and they were spending a lot on themselves, for vacations, buying properties, gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas, and alleged girlfriends."

"We can prove several hundred thousand has been spent on personal use by each of them. They may have done some good for the church," Messer said, adding that a church audit covered more than four decades that Skehan served at the church.

Priests accused in $8 million church theft


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