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Published: 5/14/2006

The sins of the Father

NO DIRECT evidence tied a Toledo priest to the bizarre ritualistic murder of a Roman Catholic nun 26 years ago, but plenty of circumstantial evidence did.

To the jury's credit in reaching its surprisingly swift guilty verdict against the Rev. Gerald Robinson, justice may have been delayed - by a quarter century or so - but ultimately, it was not denied.

When Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was found murdered in the sacristy of the Mercy Hospital chapel where she and Robinson worked, he was an early suspect. But according to police testimony, an investigation into the priest was just beginning when it was abruptly terminated. No one was charged in the crime.

The man convicted a generation later of killing Sister Margaret Ann actually presided over her funeral and went on to serve as pastor in three Toledo Diocese parishes.

But two years ago the cold case was suddenly reopened after an unidentified woman came forward with claims of childhood abuse by Toledo priests, including Robinson. The accuser told prosecutors that Robinson had engaged in Satanic rituals.

Arrested in 2004, Robinson may have figured that the long time lapse between the murder and trial would work in his favor. Over the course of two and a half decades, memories fade, key figures die, resolve weakens. People can get away with murder. It's safe to say many expected the slight, 68-year-old priest to walk away a free man.

But powerful testimony by forensic experts as well as authorities on religious ritual made the prosecution's case. The circumstantial evidence was just too compelling.

Ultimately, the jury unanimously agreed: The sins of the Father had been proven.

The conviction raises questions once again about the role of the Diocese of Toledo and the prospect that church officials obstructed justice with their reluctance to share documents and files that might have helped in the investigation.

If indeed the diocese impeded the investigation, and there is still more to this bizarre case, the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office has more work to do and additional charges should be filed. As the community has seen with the child molestation scandal, the diocese has not always been forthcoming about misconduct within.

Rather than speak publicly after the verdict, Bishop Leonard Blair simply issued a statement expressing hope that "the conclusion of the trial will bring some measure of healing for all those affected by the case as well as for our local church."

That, we suspect, will take a while. We were much more impressed by the dignified reaction of the Sisters of Mercy, who spoke of their Christian acceptance and respect for the jury's decision and their determination to move forward, with the grace of God, to "forgive the person who caused [Sister Margaret Ann's] death."

They provide a lesson for us all.

Throughout the trial, Robinson's demeanor never changed. He seemed to have just one facial expression, an impassive detachment that belied the enormity of his situation. Even when the guilty verdict was announced, and even though at his age he may spend the rest of his life in prison, there was no shrug, no flinch, no look of disbelief.

In the end, perhaps that was one more piece of evidence.



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