Action Alert!

when the other shoe drops

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 25, 2006

There's a funny sequence of events this year in the Cleveland diocese:

  1. In January, Bishop Anthony Pilla announced that he had asked the Vatican to accept his resignation. That seemed odd, since at the time he a couple of years short of canonical retirement age. Bishop Pilla ducked questions about his reason(s) for wanting early exit. Odd.
  2. In April the Vatican accepted the Pilla resignation, and immediately announced that his successor would be Bishop Richard Lennon. Again, odd. Usually a bishop's resignation is followed by a lengthy search for an appropriate successor. And the choice of Bishop Lennon-- who had made his bones in Boston by serving as apostolic administrator after Cardinal Law was run out of town-- indicated that Rome wanted a battle-tested soldier on the ground, fast.
  3. To be sure, the Cleveland diocese had its problems. Bishop Pilla had faced nasty accusations that he had lied under oath in testimony involving sexual abuse by Cleveland clergy. But that had been several months earlier, and the perjury charges were no longer in the headlines at the time of the bishop's rather sudden resignation.
  4. Then another nasty story arose in Cleveland: about the diocesan finance officer being investigated on charges of fraud involving over $700,000 in diocesan funds. The criminal investigation that produced this week's indictments would have been gaining steam at just about the time Bishop Pilla stepped down. An odd coincidence?

Now, from Cleveland's Channel 5 news, we hear the allegation that "Bishop Anthony Pilla gave the green light for a secret church bank account" involved in the fraud charges. The defense attorney for the indicted former diocesan official claims that Church officials knew what his client was doing with the money, and specifically that "the bishop was aware of it."

That's a defense lawyer talking, of course; we shouldn't take his perspective as Gospel truth. But then frankly, Bishop Pilla's reputation as a straight shooter has been pretty thoroughly tarnished (see item #3 above). And if the former bishop was implicated in the financial misconduct, that would explain the timing of his departure.

Not for the first time, we're left to observe that when a bishop mishandles the financial affairs of his diocese, the Vatican takes action promptly. If only Rome would act as quickly when a bishop's misdeeds involve spiritual affairs!

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