Rules Are for Schmucks: Money Tips from the God Industry – Part 2

Last week we looked at increasing competition from Japanese Rent-a-Monks, decreasing competition in the Israeli coffee industry, the lucrative refugee industry, and the modern-day sale of indulgences. Here are a few more interesting trends:

Steal from the Collections

New York’s Rev. Daniel Impaglia, who pastors the Evangelical Rock Church on the Upper East Side, was recently caught on videotape stealing money from the collection plate—nine times during a one-month period!

The reason he gave police for doing so was quite straightforward: “They don’t pay me enough.” I can empathize with that, and I bet you can, too. If that doesn’t tug your particular heartstrings, just think about the way in which the poor guy got caught. He had the misfortune to be hospitalized for three weeks, during which period collections that made their way to where they were supposed to go mysteriously tripled. People get so suspicious when things like that happen.

No word yet about how much Impaglia took over the years, but his fellow New York God expert, Rev. Peter Miqueli, reportedly stole over a million dollars in a similar manner, much of which he spent on $1,000/hour sex sessions with a bodybuilder named Keith Crist. New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has also been sued by parishioners of the parish where Miqueli remains a pastor for his alleged role in the cover-up.

In Rome, they do the same thing in a more sophisticated manner. I remember as a devout grade schooler being encouraged to contribute some of my allowance to “Peter’s Pence,” and having a smaller baseball card collection as a result. But it was for a wonderful cause—as the US Bishops’ website puts it today: “The purpose of the Peter’s Pence Collection is to provide the Holy Father with the financial means to respond to those who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster, and disease.”

It came out last November, though, that more than 80 percent of the Peter’s Pence collections are not devoted to this purpose, but are instead used to make the lifestyles of Vatican bureaucrats even cushier than they already are.

On some matters, the Vatican moves at a glacial pace. Its leisurely investigation of the sex crimes of Cardinal Joseph Wesolowski dragged on so long that he finally died before the in-house trial could begin, sparing everyone lots of aggravation. But when money is involved, the church responds with astonishing speed. Within a matter of days after the Peter’s Pence story was published, the church acted decisively—not by doing anything about the misappropriation, but by placing the reporter who broke the story under arrest. Problem solved!

While this was all unfolding, someone poking around an unused desk in the Vatican Secretariat found a wad of twenty thousand euros (about $22,000). That would buy some kid a lot of baseball cards. But I don’t know whether this was money that came directly from Peter’s Pence or not. It may well have come from one of the properties owned by the Vatican and used by priests as brothels and massage parlors.

Tax Strategy

One of Steve Martin’s trademark gags on his way up the comedic ladder was his lesson about “How YOU can make a MILLION dollars and NOT pay any taxes!” You can see a transcript here, but the key elements were two little phrases, not employed nearly often enough (according to Professor Martin): “I forgot!” and “Well, EXCUUUUSE me!”

Oregon’s Rev. Ronald Joling seems to have taken this at least partly to heart. He made plenty of money sharing his God expertise with his congregation over the years and never bothered paying tax on any of it. In an hour-long harangue before the judge at his trial, Joling insisted that he never really felt like a citizen of the US, but simply a citizen of God’s earth. Therefore he felt no need to render anything unto Caesar (even though that Jesus fellow seems to have said he should).

When the going got tough in court, Joling and his wife got going. Fleeing from Oregon to Arizona, they might have hid out successfully for a while, but for the fact that Joling felt the need to call one of the tenants in the rental properties he was able to accumulate by not paying some $1.2 million in taxes over the years and harass him about unpaid rent.

Once the Jolings were apprehended, Ronald was sentence to eight years in prison, but his wife of fifty-two years was only sentenced to four. Why the distinction? Because she claims she was just obeying her husband, as required by the Bible.

Asset Protection

One of the most successful God experts of the 1980s was televangelist Jim Bakker, whose empire included a giant amusement park that avoided paying taxes as a “church.” The conventional wisdom has always been that Bakker was brought down by his paramour, Jessica Hahn, to whom he paid hush money—but not in amounts large enough to keep her from revealing everything (in more ways than one) in Playboy magazine. The ensuing investigation turned up the unpleasant fact that Bakker had sold in advance far more timeshare units in a condo he was building than he actually had units available. He wound up being sentenced to eighteen years in prison (though he was paroled after only five). He also apparently still owes the IRS several million dollars.

Bakker wrote a book in 1996 called I Was Wrong. But now it turns out that he may have been wrong about being wrong. He’s been back on television for a while now, selling freeze-dried food to survivalists. During one of his shows last month, he revealed a story someone had told him about a conversation that person had with a witch at the peak of Bakker’s televangelism career. “He was flying on an airplane and he sat next to this woman and they got to talking…. she said ‘I’m a witch,’ I mean that’s insane, but she was proud of it,” said Bakker. “She said ‘right now all the witches…they’re all agreeing they’re going to destroy the television ministries and we’re starting with Jim Bakker.…We are all praying—Praying!—to destroy him.’”

So now you know what really happened.

Maybe this also explains the rapid expansion of interest in exorcisms within the Catholic Church, from Pope Francis all the way down. I had thought it was just about getting fees for services—exorcists aren’t cheap, you know. But if the church is really trying to develop more internal expertise to protect its billions from the wiles of witches, then the whole picture begins to make more sense. Doesn’t it?