Churches and businesses have a lot in common

There isn’t much people won’t do for nearly $9 million. Even priests, who make solemn vows of poverty, will do dishonest things to obtain that kind of money. With the Roman Catholic Church – and many other churches – being run more and more like a corporation, places of worship are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the scandals that have affected businesses throughout the world.

The Associated Press reported that two priests misappropriated $8.6 million that was given to their parish in the form of donations and spent it on rare coins and personal expenses, such as car payments. Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Amos Rojas Jr. told AP those millions of dollars, which could have gone toward helping the homeless, didn’t. One of the priests, Monsignor John Skehan, has been arrested and is being held on $400,000 bond. The other priest, Rev. Francis Guinan, is being sought for questioning and probable arrest.

Ken Johnson, Skehan’s attorney, who apparently had no better statement for the press, said his reading of the related documents and evidence indicated the amount the two priests stole was more like $325,000, which is “a far cry from $8.6 million.”

Johnson must be doing very well as an attorney if he can scoff so flagrantly at a pittance like $325,000. You can barely buy a new Rolls Royce with that amount of money, after all.

Parishioners apparently feel the same way. The AP reported that after walking out of an afternoon service at St. Vincent Ferrer Church, Joan Kopins said, “You can’t judge because you haven’t walked in their shoes.” Kopins is right, and she’s wrong.

She’s right that no one else has walked in the shoes of Skehan and Guinan. Frankly, that’s obvious. No doubt when white-collar criminals steal millions, their employees feel the same way. Most people hope for the best if their job – or worse, the character of their spiritual leaders – is on the line.

While Kopins’ shock by the malfeasant behavior of her spiritual leader is understandable, it’s true that more and more churches are being run like corporations. With churches making it easier for members to give money more easily – some churches have installed debit machines, allowing members of the congregation to donate large sums of money instantaneously – it’s becoming easier for church officials to skim off the top.

Skehan and Guinan are no different from other corporate criminals in recent memory. Instead of besmirching an ideal of business and capitalism, the allegations against them besmirch an ideal of religion. In both cases, the millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains boil down to one word: greed.