updated 3/9/2007 9:44:25 PM ET 2007-03-10T02:44:25

A priest accused along with another clergyman of stealing more than $8 million from their church once griped that an audit of parish funds was "a waste" of money that "should be spent more wisely," newly released court documents show.

The Revs. Francis Guinan, 64, and John Skehan, 79, were arrested last fall on charges that they spent money on gambling trips, rare coins, and in Guinan's case, a girlfriend. Letters and notes related to the case were released Thursday by Palm Beach County prosecutors.

In one letter, dated three years before the arrests, Guinan wrote to the Diocese of Palm Beach opposing a planned audit of the church.

"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," Guinan said in the October 2003 letter. "The money spent on an audit is a waste and should be spent more wisely."

Diocese policy calls for a parish audit whenever there is a change in pastors. Guinan had just taken over St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church from his close friend, Skehan, who was retiring after 40 years.

The 2003 audit eventually revealed the priests' alleged misdeeds.

Guinan reasoned in the letter that priests "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 proven otherwise ... May I be so crude as to ask you to 'call off the dogs.'"

Both men have pleaded not guilty to grand theft and are free on bail. Their attorneys did not return phone messages seeking comment about the letter.

A police report said Guinan had an intimate relationship with a former bookkeeper at another church. Denis Hamel, chief financial officer for the Diocese of Palm Beach, told police Guinan had paid the woman's credit card bills and her child's school tuition with church funds that were not recorded on the church books.

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