Disgraced Irish pensioner priest Father John Skehan has been jailed for 14 months on charges of stealing more than $100,000 from his parish coffers in Florida.

Skehan, 81, from Johnstown, County Kilkenny,  broke down in tears in a crowded courtroom last week, saying he was "truly ashamed" of his actions. 

"I committed these acts, this taking of money I wasn't entitled to, even though I knew it was wrong," he told the court.

Skehan, who pleaded guilty in January to first-degree grand theft of over $100,000, faced up to 30 years in prison. He will serve seven years probabation and has agreed to pay back the church over $700,000.

Investigators said Skehan stole $370,000 from St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach and spent it on a girlfriend, personal trips and homes in Florida and Ireland, along with a pub in County Kilkenny.

However, prosecutors believe that Skehan and another Irish priest, Offaly man Father Francis Guinan, stole about $8 million in total, hiding the money in the church ceiling and off-shore accounts.

Skehan should have been sentenced last week, but Judge Jeffrey Colbath, who heard almost two hours of pleas for leniency, postponed sentencing to consider all sides of the argument.

Several parishioners said Skehan was a much-loved traditional Irish priest.

"He ran the parish very much like they were run long ago back in Ireland, with much autonomy and good will. That style proved to be a poor choice, but the results of loving aid and caring assistance given to so many when they were in need was not," parishioner Frank McKinney wrote. "I hope you ... realize the good he did over 40 years far outweighed the unconscious bad."

The judge told the court that he was taking into account Skehan's old age, his guilty plea and his remorse. However, he added that Skehan should serve time for violating the church's trust, and described his crime as "pure greed unmasked." 

Skehan, who served at St. Vincent's for over four decades, owned condos in Riviera Beach and Deerfield Beach in Florida, a house in County Clare and a pub in County Kilkenny.
Meanwhile, Guinan, who succeeded Skehan at St. Vincent's in 2003, was accused of stealing $488,000 during the 19 months he served as pastor. Guinan, 66, from Birr, County Offaly, faces up to 15 years in prison. Guinan is reported to have spent up to $90,000 on trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
Prosecutors believe the priests stole over $8 million in total. But because of limitations in Florida legislation, they can only stand trial for the previous five years of wrongdoing. 
Skehan served at St. Vincent's for over four decades and was charged with taking $370,000 between 2001 and 2006.
Skehan, now retired, was arrested last year at Palm Beach International Airport after returning from a trip to Ireland. He was released on a $400,000 bond. Guinan was later arrested upon his return from a cruise and was also released on bail.
Skehan's attorney, Scott Richardson, said at his client’s trial: "He was a priest for more than 50 years. We want the court to know all the good he did in this community and for others around the world."

Mary Ann Phinney, St. Vincent Ferrer's librarian until June 2007, wrote that: "Knowing him as I do, his separation from all that he has worked so hard for his church, his school, the families in his parish and all of us who staffed his school has been the worst sentence he could be given."