The “Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Account”

The “Anthony M. Pilla Charitable Account”

When former Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla abruptly resigned last year, folks were a bit surprised and many of us were wondering what the untold story was. Now it seems we may be finding out. A former chief financial officer of the diocese, Joseph Smith, on trial for an elaborate kickback scheme that allegedly defrauded the diocese out of $784,000 over seven years now says that Pilla had an off-the-books account from which he withdrew $177,000 over a decade. In case you weren’t aware, that’s a big no-no. Smith and his co-defendant, Anton Zgornik, also a former diocesan employee, claim that Pilla and another diocesan official, Fr. John Wright, knew of the scheme and approved.

Now let’s be clear here: Smith and Zgornik have a vested interest in deflecting attention and responsibility away from themselves and onto their former superiors. However, their claims should not be too difficult to investigate and proof of their veracity should be easy to find.

In fact, it’s not just Pilla who is supposed to have been getting money off the books.

Robert Rotatori, Zgoznik’s lawyer, said the diocese had hundreds of bank accounts that were not listed on the financial books and records of the diocese. Those accounts were routinely used to give additional compensation to diocesan employees, including Pilla, Rotatori said.

Let’s be clear here: What these people have done, if the allegations are true, is treat the funds entrusted to them for the legitimate use of the Church to enable proper worship and care for the spiritual and corporal needs of Diocese of Cleveland now and in the future as if it were their own special slush fund. They acted as if they were entitled to the money because they happened to be working for the Church. I’ve seen it happen before, folks acting as if their good works for God entitled them to special recompense. Let’s be clear here: It doesn’t.

What’s especially bad is that they’re not just stealing from the ordinary folks who give out of their own need for the advancement of the Gospel, but also from the poor who are the image of Christ among us and thus from Christ Himself. Good luck explaining that one at your particular judgment. I’m pretty sure that’s a goats-and-sheep situation (cf. Matt. 25:31-46)

Technorati Tags:, , , ,

  • How do you suppose this is going to affect future plans to shut down parishes?  I suppose it depends upon the total dollars misappropriated; but still, if my parish were on the chopping block, I’d be taking notes.

  • I don’t think it will affect the actual closures. The financial situation today is what it is. I’m not sure what difference it makes for those whose parishes are slated to close since their justifiable outrage doesn’t change anything. The money’s not there.

  • I expect you are right.  We may never know the sum total of “sheltered” money given that the report indicated there were hundreds of bank accounts involved.

  • I agree that these money issues shouldn’t play a role in parish closings, the issue is the shortage of vocations, at least in this diocese. But I don’t think anyone should underestimate the willingness of troublemakers and malcontents to grab ahold of anything that helps them get headlines. And if half of what is in this motion by Mr. Smith is true, it will be making lots of headlines.

  • The money issue is probably not far removed from the priest shortage issue.  Scripture tells us that when one serves Mammon, one does not serve God.  When the shepherd serves Mammon, he is not likely to draw the right young men into his seminary.  When the wrong sort of young men are drawn into the seminary, the right sort, who may be there despite the shepherd, leave.  Next thing you know, the seminary rector is writing about the changing nature of the priesthood and the bishop is trying to figure out how to cover up a sexual abuse scandal.

    That’s an oversimplification, but still worth thinking about.

  • “Now it seems we may be finding out.”

    Well, this was already in the Plain Dealer over a year ago; we knew about Smith and Zgornik. There’s another guy who ran off to Columbus. I think Charlie Feliciano (former attorney for the Diocese and reputedly a good guy) dug a lot of this stuff out.

  • Pauli,
    Actually, Smith is the guy who went to Columbus.  And yeah, he did claim previously that he was authorized to get this off-the-books compensation, but I believe this is the first time we’ve gotten an indication of how deep the rat hole goes, with check numbers, dates and amounts to back it up. As Dom pointed out, that should be relatively easy to prove or disprove.

  • Fenian, you know more than I do and have a better memory.

    Carrie, you might or might not know that there has been a rule that only graduates of one seminary (Borromeo?) are even allowed to be ordained in the Cleveland Diocese. That’s at least what I heard. I know some really good young guys who heard a call to the priesthood and took off to other parts of the country or to Rome. I also know that Bp. Pilla hadn’t sent anyone off to get a canon law degree in years. You’re probably not far off the track in your “mammon” comments.

  • Pauli, to the best of my knowledge we have only one seminary in Cleveland now.  There used to be another one, but it closed.

    Or are you saying that someone who went through seminary in Rome would not be ordained in Cleveland?  I don’t know much about how the seminary system works.  I also don’t know whether Borromeo has been cleaned up, or whether the same tendencies still apply.

    One thing is certain, we have a severe priest shortage that is going to get much worse over the next ten years.  All of our priests, with perhaps a trifling exception, have grey heads.  We are becoming a mission diocese.