One of two Irish priests accused of stealing huge sums of money from a Florida parish has dramatically changed his plea to guilty.

On the first day of his trial, 81-year-old, Monsignor John Skehan, who is originally from Johnstown in Kilkenny, admitted the charge of grand theft of over $100,000.

He could face up to 30 years in prison.

Monsignor Skehan pleaded guilty to taking the money placed every Sunday into the collection plates.

His plea came in a last-minute twist as he and fellow priest, Reverend Francis Guinan of the St Vincent Ferrer Catholic Church in Delray Beach began the first day of their trial.

Prosecutors say the men used the money to buy property, and go on holidays.

Monsignor Skehan's attorney said he and the state had reached an amicable resolution and that he had accepted responsibility for his actions by virtue of his guilty plea.

In Rev Guinan's case it is alleged there were gambling trips to Las Vegas and the Bahamas.

He is also said to have had what a police report refers to as an 'intimate relationship' with a former book-keeper at another parish, and that he paid her credid card bills and her child's school fees.

Rev Guinan, 68, originally from near Birr in Co Offaly, is denying the charges. His trial begins next month.

Rev Guinan's trial has now been adjourned until 18 February.

Monsignor Skehan was arrested at Palm Beach International Airport in September 2006 returning from Ireland.

He and Rev Guinan had fled the country after the church began an investigation into alleged improprieties at St Vincent's as well as an audit of the church books.

Though the guidelines require a minimum of 22 months and up to 31 years the judge will have sole discretion to impose the length of the sentence.