MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Father Vincent Kerin Kiss lived well, eating in Melbourne's finest restaurants, traveling abroad and building a vacation home in the Philippines.

How did he do it? By stealing from charity, prosecutors say - $2.8 million over a six-year period.

The 59-year-old Roman Catholic priest pleaded not guilty today to 165 charges of theft and was ordered to stand trial. If convicted, he could receive 20 years in prison. He has been been barred from performing priestly duties.

From June 1984 to April 1990, prosecutors say, Kiss stole from an account he was paid to manage. The account held money intended for development projects in Vanuatu, a Pacific Ocean nation of 80 islands northeast of Australia.

Prosecutors say none of the money went to Vanuatu.

Kiss had a ''vast expenditure for a man on a modest salary,'' Prosecutor Gavin Silbert said Monday on the first day of a hearing on whether the priest would stand trial.

''The expenditure supported what was clearly a jet-set lifestyle,'' Silbert said.

Kiss kept a cellar of fine wines, made frequent overseas trips and spent $4,500 on a limousine to transport socialites and a politician, prosecutors said.

They say he also sent five members of the Australian Ballet on a tour of the Philippines.

Defense attorney Terry Forrest told the court today that the money was used to establish projects in the Philippines and Vanuatu, and to bring youths from the two countries to Australia for education.

''The assertion is there was a computer school set up, land bought for a piggery and a video production unit set up,'' Forrest said.

He said Kiss had to mix with socialites and ''high-flyers'' as part of his job to solicit funds for charity.