Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

trust me

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 10, 2007

Yanked back from Australia, where he went on the lam after an extended vacation, Fr. Francis Guinan of the Diocese of Palm Beach is facing charges that he and his fellow priest Fr. John Skehan fleeced their parish of more than $8 million. Assisted by remarkably complaisant bookkeepers -- one of whom admitted to an "intimate relationship" with Guinan that lasted three or four years, and included accompanying him on roughly ten trips to Las Vegas ("Guinan received special room rates as a frequent visitor") as well as to the Bahamas -- they managed to parry their parishioners' concerns until 2004. These concerns had been raised at least a decade earlier, but were stonewalled by the egregious Bishop Keith Symons, who had pastoral innovations of his own he was not eager should come to light. The Guinan-Skehan scam involved creative use of the shredder, which was used to destroy bank-books that showed the true deposits of weekly collections (i.e., checks plus cash). Another set of books was ginned up showing only the amount from the checks, and the difference was used by the good fathers for -- what's the term? -- personal and professional development.

Guinan -- the slimeball di tutti slimeballs -- conducted himself with a shamelessness that's in a class of its own. Were he in any other racket we could almost admire the scale of his impudence. As it is, the day to day texture of his priestly life doesn't bear thinking about; one can't begin to imagine, e.g., what Guinan's homilies or confessional counsels were like. His October 2003 letter of indignant protest to the recently-installed Bishop Gerald Barbarito is almost too bad to be true. I transcribe it below in its entirety for your edification. The occasion, as will become obvious, was Bishop Barbarito's insistence that St. Vincent Ferrer Parish have its finances audited:

Dear Bishop: I respectfully request consideration and elimination of the policy of conducting financial audits of parishes and having auditors oversee the counting of the collection upon the transfer of a pastor, or at any other time, unless there is solid and verifiable evidence that such an audit is required. The usual audit ought to be sufficient.

If not entirely literate, Guinan displays a remarkably comprehensive mastery of passive-aggressive swordsmanship. No ecclesiastical cliché goes unspoken.

My reasons for this request are as follows: It is demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating. It accomplishes nothing that could not be accomplished in a more dignified fashion. It states that you as Bishop and Diocesan Authorities do not trust your pastors and conveys this message to parish staff and parishioners which makes it counter-productive, negatively affecting the mission of the Church. It portrays the Diocesan Pastoral Center as a police force ruling over parishes instead of as a unifying force with its own mission and at the service of the parishes. It appears to cater to the negative element in the church ...

Now whom d'you think he could have in mind...?

... who expect clergy and religious to grovel in poverty rather than assume their own God-given financial responsibilities. The money spent on audit is a waste and should be spent more wisely.

A nice touch. Let it never be said of Guinan that he groveled in poverty. He emphasized the positive.

The auditors might be more constructively employed if they were to calculate what the cost to the church would be if clergy and religious were paid according to regular secular comparative salary scales and publish such information. Comparative studies, I have read, between Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergy would suggest that Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Palm Beach alone alleviate the church of at least $5,000,000 per year of financial burden.

No doubt the faithful would be pleased to learn of the alleviation. In the paragraph following, Guinan reminds his bishop of the human cost of discipleship. Have your hankies at the ready.

The laity need to be informed as to how central the clergy and religious are to the mission of the church. 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. They have voluntarily devoted themselves without being "policed" into doing same. They lead the laity in making sacrifices for the church, our children, and future generations. They are the ones who have to bear the brunt of implementing the decrees of Vatican II during one of the most difficult periods in the history of the church, and in spite of the tremendous losses in clergy and vocations.

I told you he was a beauty, didn't I?

Bishops and Diocesan officials need to be seen as people who are grateful for the sacrifices and commitments made and not as trying to "squeeze the lemon" after its already been squeezed dry. It is a sad day in the life of the church when you actually present yourselves as ingrates whose expressions of gratitude do not match performance.

A sad day indeed. Hereupon Guinan lets us glimpse his vulnerability. Tough as he is to endure a life of commitment and sacrifice, he's not ashamed to admit that, frankly ... he's hurt:

On a personal note, I cannot help but feel offended that after 37 years of service to the church in South Florida, the past 16 years as Pastor of St. Patrick, I have to be subjected to an audit that is now being conducted. A simple review of what has been accomplished and of the financial reports submitted should be more than adequate. Presently we await the same fate at St. Vincent Ferrer, where I have succeeded Fr. Skehan, who served the church in South Florida for 51 years, the past 40 as Pastor of St. Vincent Ferrer, and has done an excellent job. May I be so crude as to ask you to "call off the dogs." No disrespect intended for anyone.

Got those checkbooks out and pens in hand? I knew you would.

This is not the way I want to welcome you to the Diocese. I am very grateful that you are here and pledge you my full support, but I do feel strongly that this is a policy that is very wrong and one that you will not want to continue. Your prayers and your prayerful response will be greatly appreciated.

Obediently Yours in Christ, Frank Guinan

"Obediently" is good.

The second collection will benefit the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Please be as generous as your means permit.

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