Cleveland Scene [Cleveland OH]
September 22, 2021
By Sam Allard
Anthony Pilla, who served as Bishop of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese from 1980 until 2006, died Tuesday morning at his home. He was 88.
Pilla was born in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood and graduated from John Carroll University. His tenure as Cleveland’s Bishop, which began when his predecessor James Hickey was named Archbishop of Washington, spanned the mayoralties of George Voinovich, Michael R. White and Jane Campbell in Cleveland. He resigned in 2006 after open-bypass heart surgery and the cumulative stress and grief of the national sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
Though Pilla eventually established a lay review board and procedures for the reporting of abuse and the removal of abusive priests, those actions came only after years of diocesan neglect in Northeast Ohio. The vast scale of the abuse, and the pain and distrust it created in millions of Catholics, didn’t seem to dawn on Pilla until late in his leadership.
Pilla is remembered as a proud Italian, a prolific writer — he authored 10 pastoral letters during his tenure, including one arguing against sprawl to foster better relationships between urban, suburban and rural parish communities — and a kind and compassionate leader. Pilla’s successor, Bishop Richard Lennon, later shepherded the Diocese through an unhappy consolidation process that resulted in the shuttering of many urban parishes Pilla had worked to keep open.
Among his accomplishments during his two-and-a-half decades as Bishop was establishing the Center for Pastoral Leadership in Wickliffe in 1991. He also served as the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1995-1998.
Cleveland’s current Bishop, Edward Malesic, shared a message on Pilla’s passing.
“In my short time as the bishop of Cleveland I came to know Bishop Pilla as a very warm, kind-hearted and deeply faithful shepherd, always dedicated to the people of the diocese,” he said. “He was generous with his time and sharing his knowledge and concern for the diocese with me. As a leader in the national Church, Bishop Pilla was an inspiration and example to me throughout my priesthood and in my years as a bishop. I felt so welcomed by him when I came to the Diocese of Cleveland, a Church that he loved so much. As a leader in the community and a friend to so many, he will be greatly missed.”