Friday, March 21, 2008
SHROUDED FINANCES IN CLEVELAND
For those of you keeping tabs on the shenanigans in the Cleveland Diocese, National Catholic Reporter offers an update:
Santiago “Charlie” Feliciano spent two decades working as an in-house lawyer for the Cleveland diocese. When he finally left in 2000, he had been the general counsel, Bishop Anthony Pilla’s main legal adviser, for 16 years.
Feliciano held one of the top posts in the diocese’s Financial and Legal Office. Yet, talk to Feliciano and he’ll tell you how large swaths of diocesan finance remained a mystery to him.
He paints a picture of himself as a man who was inside, but really on the outside. Someone who should have known the details of questionable schemes then being cultivated -- schemes that later mushroomed into the ugliest diocesan-level money scandal to hit American Catholicism in decades.
But Feliciano says he didn’t know.
“They never let me anywhere near a checkbook,” he said....
In Cleveland, Feliciano was cut out of policy meetings, where he might have expressed legal opinions about the imprudence of self-dealing or other questionable executive compensation practices. “They should have regularly run things by me, but they chose not to,” he said.
The Cleveland scandal, now approaching its last act in federal court, involves Pilla and other top diocesan officials, one of whom, Anton Zgoznik, was convicted last year in federal court and another, former chief financial officer Joseph Smith, who faces his own trial later this year.
It was only after Feliciano left the diocese that another insider mailed a stack of financial documents to Cleveland media -- the proverbial smoking gun. It was then, said Feliciano, that he started to get a clear picture of the embezzlement that had been happening more or less under his nose.
If it seems a bit peculiar for a top church insider to be that out of the loop concerning church finances, what can the average parishioner expect to know about the finances of an institution where virtually all control is in the hands of local bishops and the diocese is largely exempt from publicly disclosing its financial operations to the Internal Revenue Service?
Yet despite all of this dishonesty, I'd bet that the Catholic Charities collection will be larger than ever in Cleveland this year. It won't, however, include any of my cash. I sought out a bishop I thought I could trust and sent the funds there. I wish more Catholics would do the same to send a message up north. Money is the only thing that gets their attention.