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Police say 'obsessed' former church worker took $200K pipe organ

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 2:21 p.m.

When a pipe organ went missing from a closed Mt. Washington church, Kendra McLaughlin refused to believe that greed or evil intent drove someone to take it.

She was right: Police on Monday said a former church organist who was obsessed with the instrument's beauty admitted taking it for safekeeping.

“Why would somebody do that? I was sure there was a reason,” said McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for St. Mary of the Mount Parish, which recently merged with the defunct St. Justin Catholic Church, from which the organ disappeared, apparently piece by piece, last month.

“This person may have had a larger plan and was doing what he was doing methodically and with love,” McLaughlin said. “It's sweet. He wanted to protect the instrument, it mattered that much to him. ... Where is the darkness in that?”

The former employee, who played the organ at services from 2004 to 2010, told detectives that he had a key to the church and took the organ, valued at $200,000, on Feb. 22 because he was “obsessed with the beauty of the organ and did not want to see it damaged,” police said.

Police and church officials declined to identify the man.

The organist confessed after hearing news reports about the theft investigation, police said. He's arranging for its safe return and will apologize to the church, officials said.

The Rev. Mike Stumpf of St. Mary of the Mount Parish said the church will not press charges.

“This was an imprudent and terrible mistake, but not fully criminal,” he said. “There was no intention to sell, and there seemed to have been no maliciousness meant towards the parish community.”

The organist told police he worried about the instrument because “it gets very hot in the church in the summer and cold in the winter, thus damaging the leather bellows on the pipes,” police said. He told police he was “thinking with his heart and not with his head.”

Stumpf said he hopes the organ's return will allow the church to move past “this very bizarre situation,” while reminding people that “we are a community that must rely on forgiveness.”

The church will practice what it preaches, McLaughlin said. She predicted the organist will be invited to play again at church services.

“This person has asked for forgiveness (and) the church forgave,” she said. “I'm absolutely positive the pastor will extend that invitation.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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