Confession solves case of missing pipe organ at Mount Washington church

Ex-organist took it, but priest forgives

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It was an act of love, not avarice.

A former church organist was trying to protect a beloved old pipe organ when he dismantled the instrument in the former St. Justin Catholic Church on Mount Washington and removed it last month, authorities believe.

And in the spirit of forgiveness and the Lenten season, the church has decided not to press charges.

The Rev. Michael Stumpf, pastor of the newly combined Catholic Community on Mount Washington, called the situation "very bizarre" in a statement Monday but said the one-time employee has taken responsibility and will make a formal apology.

"In our estimation, this was an imprudent and terrible mistake, but not fully criminal," Father Stumpf said. "There was no intention to sell, and there seemed to have been no maliciousness meant toward the parish community."

Police said they received a call Sunday and learned that the church's former organist removed the instrument Feb. 22 for safekeeping. The church in Mount Washington closed two weeks ago after it merged with St. Mary of the Mount Parish.

The man told police he expressed to one of pastors at the parish that he wanted to own and maintain the organ. When he saw news reports about the missing instrument, he confessed that he removed it and would arrange its safe return, according to a police news release.

The former employee, whose name is not being released, told detectives in an interview that he was "thinking with his heart and not with his head. He only wanted to preserve the beauty of the organ," according to police.

The man had a key to the former church from when he maintained the organ there from 2004 to 2010, police said.

Father Stumpf is out of town this week and could not be reached for further comment.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said only the church can decide if it will press charges and that it could still choose to do so later.

"One doesn't expect things like this to happen, but they do," Rev. Lengwin said. "We deal with various situations where people who are close to us at times do things that are harmful, and we need to make sure justice is served. At the same time, we want to be forgiving."

The man told detectives that the church gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter, which could damage the pipe's leather bellows.

"Extreme temperatures are not good for lots of small leather components in an organ," said Alan Lewis, director of music at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside.

The church has valued the organ at $200,000. But Peter J. Luley, organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Highland Park who is familiar with the custom Moeller pipe organ, estimates it at significantly less.

"It was not a particularly great or large instrument. You could probably get $1,000 to $2,000 for its parts. It might cost $200,000 to replace," he said. "There is no market for it. The most you could get is scraping it and melting down, maybe $500 in metal. The console might be worth something, maybe $500."

Questions also arose about how the man could have moved the organ.

Jon Danzak, former director of the organ artist series and member of the guild of organists, said it would not be overly difficult to move a smaller pipe organ if given the time.

Mr. Lewis said if someone skilled with the organ dismantled the various parts and used the appropriate trays that would keep the pipes from rolling around, it could be removed without damage.

"Since it is an older instrument, there would be a fair amount of wiring to connect and reconnect," Mr. Lewis said. "But you could do it."

neigh_city - lifestyle - music

Andrew Druckenbrod contributed. Molly Born: or 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede.


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