UPDATE: Bishop Pilla dies at 88; he led the church’s efforts to unify the Clevelanders
CLEVELAND (CNS) – Retired Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of Cleveland, who led initiatives to bring diverse communities together to overcome poverty, racism and social inequality, died on September 21 at the age of 88, said the Diocese of Cleveland.
Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Cleveland announced Bishop Pilla’s death in a statement, saying the Clevelander native had died at his home. No cause of death was given.
A funeral mass will be celebrated by Bishop Malesic on September 28 at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Cleveland. Interment will be in the Chapel of the Resurrection of the cathedral.
Since his installation as Bishop of Cleveland in September 2020, Bishop Malesic said he had come to know Bishop Pilla “as a very warm, caring and deeply faithful shepherd, always devoted to the people of the diocese”.
“He was generous with his time and shared with me his knowledge and concern for the diocese,” said Bishop Malesic. “As a leader of the national church, Bishop Pilla has been an inspiration and an example to me throughout my priesthood and during my years as a bishop.
“I felt so welcomed by him when I arrived in the Diocese of Cleveland, a church he loved so much. As a leader in the community and a friend of so many people, he will be sorely missed. “
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered his prayers and sympathy to family, friends and those touched by his years of ministry in the Diocese of Cleveland .
“He led the bishops’ conference in the 1990s as president, and those who worked with him expressed that his deep love for the church was evident through his staunch commitment and desire for unity within the church he expressed through his pastoral leadership of the conference, ”Archbishop Gomez said in a statement on September 22.
Bishop Pilla’s love for his hometown and his desire to serve people of all faiths and backgrounds has become the hallmark of his 25 years as spiritual leader of the Diocese of Cleveland.
Friends and colleagues remembered Bishop Pilla as a humble man, whose love for the church was at the forefront of his life and guided his desire to build bridges between the people of the eight counties of the diocese that spanned on rural, suburban and urban communities.
“He was Pope Francis before there was a Pope Francis,” said Tom Allio, who worked with Bishop Pilla for three decades as director of the Diocesan Office of Social Welfare.
“He was a champion of social justice and peace. No one loved the people of northeastern Ohio more than Bishop Pilla. He did all he could to bring people together, ”Allio told Catholic News Service.
Not one to attract attention, Bishop Pilla has become one of Cleveland’s most powerful voices for peace and reconciliation thanks to the partnerships he has forged with businesses, neighborhood groups. and interfaith leaders. His Church in the City initiative aimed to establish links between parishes in city centers and outlying areas of the diocese.
Bishop Pilla often expressed the conviction that vibrant parish communities were vital elements of city districts and he devoted great efforts to preventing the closure of parishes. While parishes closed in major cities in the industrial heartland and northeastern United States, only 12 parishes closed in neighborhoods in Cleveland during his tenure.
Allio described how Bishop Pilla’s vision for the church’s role in building bridges and fighting injustices led the diocese – and Bishop Pilla by extension – to acquire a national profile.
Bishop Pilla played a leading role with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the forerunner of the USCCB, from 1981. He served on the bishops’ committees on finance and ecumenical and interfaith affairs and is became chairman of the ad hoc committee on monitoring. for the Pastoral Care of the Economy.
In 1990, he became treasurer of the conference, its vice-president in 1992 and its president in 1995. He is also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church in the Vatican.
A few days after leading the general assembly of bishops in the fall of 1997, Bishop Pilla had his first health problem while undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery. Soon after, he was diagnosed with a staph infection, which put him on the sidelines for three months. Then in 1999, he underwent prostate surgery.
Born November 12, 1932 to Italian parents, Bishop Pilla grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Cleveland. He was ordained a priest in 1959. He served in parish ministry and joined the faculty of Borromeo Seminary in Cleveland in 1960. He was appointed rector of Borromeo in 1972 and appointed secretary for religious services and personnel in the diocese in 1975.
He became bishop in 1979, when Saint John Paul II appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Cleveland. He was appointed ninth bishop of Cleveland in November 1980 and was installed on January 6, 1981.
Bishop Pilla’s tenure was also marked by challenges posed by sexual abuse of the clergy as revelations of wrongdoing by priests and the shortcomings of church officials in their dealings with priests became known. at national and local levels. He apologized and repeatedly met with survivors of abuse. He later described the abuse crisis as the most painful of his time as a bishop.
Bishop Pilla retired in 2006 citing health problems.