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Published: Friday, 9/22/2006

Fund-raiser for a murderer

A CONVICTED murderer forfeits any groundswell of group support or sympathy - or should. That goes doubly for a man of the cloth who is serving 15 years to life for the bizarre, ritualistic murder of a Catholic nun in 1980.

And yet, for some unfathomable reason, convicted killer Gerald Robinson, the Toledo priest who murdered Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the chapel of Mercy Hospital all those years ago, retains a persistent cadre of supporters.

It is the height of hypocrisy for his former parish church to not only list a defense fund-raiser for Robinson in its Sunday bulletin, but to post a flyer for the event in the back of the church.

Not surprisingly, officials at St. Hedwig Catholic Church on Lagrange Street had little to say when contacted about the matter. Certainly it's possible, although not very plausible, that the Robinson fund-raiser appeal was surreptitiously slipped into the church bulletin without prior notice or approval.

But what about the Robinson flyer displayed inside the church on a parish bulletin board above an advertised Right to Life event?

An offended parishioner said by giving a forum to Robinson supporters raising money for his appeal, the church appeared to give a semblance of acceptance and a "proclamation of this priest's innocence." Whether that was in fact intended is problematic, but the impression it leaves is obvious.

Mike Drabik e-mailed Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair about the objectionable items and quickly received an unqualified response from the Diocese of Toledo. A statement from Rev. Michael Billian stressed the diocese had not given permission for the Robinson advertisements to be placed in church bulletins.

"In fact," Father Billian wrote, "The contrary is true. We have told parishes not to advertise this event." But obviously, the message not to use the church as a conduit for the convicted killer's defense was muted in some quarters.

A local advocate for victims of clerical abuse thinks the diocese directive restraining Robinson sympathizers needs to be more forcefully delivered. "Some people will never believe that a priest could harm a child or kill a nun unless they hear it from the priest or the bishop," said Claudia Vercellotti, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Gerald Robinson committed the heinous murder of a religious sister of the church and got away with it for 26 years. He should evoke no pity and no official promotion from the parish he once led.

Pity should be reserved for those who still maintain a dogged fund-raising mission for a murderer, refusing to accept the ultimate betrayal by their onetime spiritual leader and pastor.

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