when charity begins at home

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 18, 2007

Anthony Pilla, the former bishop of Cleveland, had been less-than-forthcoming on questions pertaining to molestor priests. Last year's Dash-2 hop into retirement seemed somewhat too fortuitous at the time. Now the diocese's former CFO -- who has himself been charged in federal district court with conspiracy, money laundering, fraud, and tax evasion -- is claiming that Pilla was playing games with "off-book" accounts for his own benefit. From the Plain Dealer:

Former Cleveland Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla received $177,000 in money and furniture over a decade from an off-the-books church account set up to hide the transactions, a former diocesan official said.

The accusation came in a 40-page motion filed Friday in U.S. District Court by lawyers representing Joseph Smith, the former diocesan chief financial officer. Lawyers for Anton Zgoznik, a former diocesan employee, later joined the motion.

Smith and Zgoznik are accused of defrauding the Cleveland Catholic Diocese out of at least $784,000 over seven years in an elaborate kickback scheme. The two men maintain they simply followed orders from diocesan supervisors, including Pilla, and are taking the fall for the church's poorly managed finances.

Clearly it's in Smith and Zgoznik's interest to pin the rap on a third party -- and just as clearly it's in the interest of that third party to deny it. Pilla has declined to comment on the charges, but the Diocese itself has issued a baroquely-worded blanket denial:

A diocesan spokesman denied Smith's accusations. "We are sorry that Mr. Smith has resorted to making false accusations against those associated with the diocese," spokesman Bob Tayek said in a written statement released Saturday.

"Any suggestion that those involved with the administration of the diocese knew or approved of the activities charged against Mr. Smith, or engaged in similar acts, is false," Tayek said. "We continue to pray for Mr. Smith and his family."

One detects the hand of a very cagey attorney in crafting that statement. "Those involved with the administration of the diocese" is a wonderfully elastic expression, and could be stretched to include Smith himself, in a pinch.

True or false, the charges in this instance are accompanied by some fairly concrete indicators.

In the motion, the lawyers outline transactions in several accounts they say existed but were not part of the diocese's official books and records. The documents list check numbers, dates, amounts and payees.

If bogus, these documents should be easy enough to explode. The following allegations, though, show that Pilla has some explaining to do:

One account detailed is the "Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Account" opened at McDonald & Co. The account had assets of more than $500,000, Kushner said in the motion.

"Bishop Pilla withdrew money from the account for his own use in a manner designed to conceal the transactions and his use of the fund," Kushner wrote. "After the indictment in this case, Bishop Pilla resigned and filed amended tax returns which account for some of the activity in this account."

Pilla, who retired last year citing health concerns, declined through a spokesman Saturday to comment.

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, Kushner said.

It would seem that -- in this case at least -- the left hand of the Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Fund knew pretty well what its right hand was doing. After indictment, coincidentally, Pilla resigned his bishopric early and filed amended tax returns. I believe this is what we're taught to call the "servant-leader model" of ministry.

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Show 2 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2007 2:19 PM ET USA

    This shows the transition from studying Zalba's Moral Theology manual to studying "pastoral theology" that justifies everything and anything.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2007 1:01 PM ET USA

    When will it end. These bishops are supposed to be our SHEPHERDS. It looks like he was indeed fleecing the flock.