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august ecclesiastics

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 31, 2007

It hasn't been a great month for polishing the reputation of senior churchmen. Gallup, New Mexico, presents us with the Mystery of the Bouncing Bishop: the newly-bashful Donald E. Pelotte. Back on July 23rd, When Pelotte failed to show up at the office for an appointment, his chancellor Timoteo Lujan drove to his residence, unlocked the entrance and unlocked Pelotte's bedroom door, to find him "heavily bruised across the face, along the chest area, both arms, the knuckles, the legs, and the feet." Lujan saw blood on the floor and the stairwell wall. "He looks like he got beat up," Lujan remarked at first. Pelotte insisted he had fallen down the stairs and did not want medical attention, but Lujan convinced him to go to a hospital, where the ER physician suspected Pelotte had been the victim of a violent assault and contacted law enforcement. You can read the police incident report here.

Sadly, certain skeptical persons have proven more willing to share the views of the reporting officer, the attending physician, and the chancellor (in his initial impressions) than to accept the innocent explanation offered by the good bishop himself:

In a newspaper editorial, the Gallup Independent said it appears that "Pelotte was viciously assaulted and now he's trying to cover up either because he wants to protect the person who did it or wants to keep secret the relationship he has with the perpetrator."

Of course these cynics ignore the fact that Pelotte was an old and feeble man -- nearly 63 years of age! -- and the fact that a fall down a flight of carpeted stairs is only too likely to blacken both eyes, to bruise knuckles, arms, elbows, and hands, and to scratch one's legs as well. The Gallup Vicar General is reported to be confident that "Pelotte will tell as much as he can remember about the incident after he is fully recovered," and I suspect we'll learn that Pelotte was attempting to carry a harpsichord and a potted arbor vitae down the stairs when he tripped on his pet panther and took that particularly nasty tumble (one is here put in mind of Dave Barry's remark about the wives of Henry VIII, "most of whom died in freak guillotine accidents"). Bishoping is dangerous business.

Tricky, too. On the northern front, former Cleveland bishop Anthony Pilla likewise finds himself surrounded by persons slow to believe his protestation to be "shocked" at the dealings of Joseph Smith, his quondam chief financial officer, alleged to be part of a kickback scheme and currently on trial.

Smith hired [defendant Adam] Zgoznik's companies to modernize the diocese's antiquated accounting systems, for which he received $17.5 million over a seven-year period. Court documents show Zgoznik paid $784,000 of the money back to companies controlled by Smith. Prosecutors contend those payments were kickbacks to Smith for approving inflated payments to Zgoznik's companies.
Hankies at the ready?

Pilla's only moment of emotion on the witness stand came when he described his friendship with Smith. "I considered ours a very close relationship," Pilla said. He recalled Smith's success at organizing the bishop's annual fund-raising golf tournaments benefiting a home for troubled and neglected children and inner-city schools.

Now that's touching. Especially in view of the off-book personal savings account called the Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Fund, by which it seems the bishop got in touch with his inner neglected child, and, well, made sure that child got his benefits:

In September 1991, Pilla had two checks written on the Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Account totaling $85,825. The money was deposited with the diocese, which then bought a money order payable to Pilla for the same amount, [Smith defense attorney] Kushner said.

OK, so Pilla shocks easy. His mysterious 401-dash-2 early retirement, his eerily instant replacement in the person of Bishop Richard Lennon, and his fortuitously amended tax returns all indicate that his was no ordinary episcopate.

Except for the golf tournaments, of course.

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