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Fr John Skehan

Florida parish rallies to jailed Irish priest Fr. John Skehan

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Fr John Skehan

A flamboyant property developer is leading a campaign to free elderly Irish priest Fr John Skehan from jail in Delray Florida and take care of him when he is released.

Developer Frank McKinney said his wife went to see Skehan every week.

"The day he gets out there is going to be a party here like you've never seen.

"It'll be as if the Titanic arrived in the dock."

Skehan, 82, was jailed for 14 months and his co-accused Fr Frances Guinan, 67, was jailed for four years for their roles in the disappearance of $500,000 from the Church collection plate.

Both Skehan and Guinan are from Ireland, Skehan from Kilkenny and Guinan from Offaly.

Prosecutors said the priests gambled the money away on girlfriends and Vegas. However parishioners say Skehan was innocent of the charges.

Now McKinney is trying to get Skehan exonerated.

And McKinney has also organized a major welcome home party for Skehan when he is released in April.

McKinney is leading a group which has organized a free apartment for Skehan in Florida and he has even offered to let Skehan stay in his mansion.

McKinney's wife Nilsa was one of 14 parishioners from St Vincent Ferrer parish in Delray who was allowed visit Skehan in jail.

Skehan was so popular in Delray that 78 parishioners applied to be able to visit him.

Skehan is suffering from prostate cancer and diabetes and shares a cramped cell with one other prisoner.

Two inmates have been murdered at the facility, Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown, Florida.

But Skehan appears to have become popular with the hardened jail inmates.

Known as "Pops," in the jailhouse, he brings them all to Mass and shares his money and gifts with them.

Parishioners in Delray have always denied that $8m went missing, as prosecutors alleged.

They said only $250,000 was unaccounted for and Skehan admitted that he gave $100,000 as a pension to the parish's former bookkeeper who had retired after working for 40 years.

The woman was barely paid for her work and the diocese denied her a pension.

Parishioner Michelle Donahue said that was typical of Skehan's generosity.

"He admits to this wrong but he thought it was the right thing to do.

"That is why myself and his supporters are proud of him, knowing that his mistakes were the result of his kind heart."

Meanwhile, McKinney says Skehan should never have been jailed.

"This man is 82. He comes from the old school. He didn't use a calculator not to mind a computer so when people needed help in his parish, he just got them the money."

"The accounting was lacking, but he didn't misuse the money."

Both McKinney and Donahue say Guinan was another story.

Donahue said: "Fr Skehan went to Vegas with him twice, to play golf. He doesn't gamble and there were no women in his case."

Donahue added: "There are parishioners who want to help. Some have free apartments he can use. Others want to help him get back to Ireland, if that's what he wants."
 

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