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Published: Wednesday, 4/28/2004

Priest charged with killing put on leave; review set for claims

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

A Toledo Catholic priest charged in the 1980 ceremonial killing of a nun was placed on a leave of absence yesterday after Bishop Leonard Blair made a "pastoral visit" to the Rev. Gerald Robinson in the Lucas County jail.

Bishop Blair's action bars the 66-year-old priest from public ministry - including celebrating Holy Communion or any other sacrament. Father Robinson remained in jail last night in lieu of $200,000 bond.

He was arrested Friday and arraigned Monday on a murder charge in the April 5, 1980, death of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the chapel of the then Mercy Hospital. The murder occurred on Holy Saturday, one day before Easter and the nun's 72nd birthday.

In a statement released yesterday, Bishop Blair announced the Diocesan Review Board will "revisit" allegations made by a woman who told the seven-member panel in June that she had been sexually and physically abused during her childhood by a number of Catholic priests, including Father Robinson. The Blade does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

The Blade reported Sunday that the woman's detailed statements last year about Satanic rituals and sadomasochistic orgies by Toledo-area Catholic priests led a member of the review board and a local victim's advocate to take the case to the state attorney general's office.

The Diocesan board member, Dr. Robert Cooley, was removed from the panel for his actions.

After reviewing the information, the state contacted the

Lucas County prosecutor's office and cold-case investigators from that office and Toledo police to take another look at the 24-year-old murder case in which Father Robinson originally was a suspect.

Chet Warren of Sylvania, a defrocked priest, was mentioned prominently in statements to the Diocese Review Board. Chet Warren of Sylvania, a defrocked priest, was mentioned prominently in statements to the Diocese Review Board.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

While investigators could not substantiate or dismiss the woman's allegations, her mention of Father Robinson prompted them to reopen the case.

On Monday, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a victims' advocacy group, said the diocese did not follow its own protocol when it failed to place Father Robinson on leave after the woman's statements to the board or when the murder case was reopened.

A diocesan spokesman told The Blade in response that the priest had not been suspended because "there were no credible allegations on him."

But yesterday afternoon, the diocese issued a statement attributed to Bishop Blair that said two diocesan investigators will continue to check into the statements of the woman.

When the church inquiry is complete, the Diocesan Review Board "will revisit the allegations in light of the investigation results that are presented to them," according to the statement.

That was followed later by the announcement that Father Robinson had been placed on leave.

SNAP officials were glad to hear that the priest had been suspended.

"Well it's about time," said Barbara Blaine, a former Toledoan and SNAP founder. "It should have been done when the victim, Jane Doe, came forward back in June, 2003."

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Claudia Vercellotti, local SNAP co-coordinator, although "it's extremely belated."

Another Catholic priest, The Blade has learned, was mentioned prominently in the Toledo woman's written and verbal statements to the review board. Chet J. Warren, a former member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales religious order, has since been defrocked.

Mr. Warren of Sylvania has been accused of sexually abusing at least eight minor girls in the 1970s. He was sued in April, 2002, by Teresa Bombrys, now of Hilliard, Ohio. She claimed in her lawsuit that is pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that Mr. Warren sexually molested her for four years beginning when she was in the fourth grade.

Ms. Blaine said Mr. Warren began molesting her when she was 13, and her suit was settled out of court by the Toledo diocese and the Oblates in 1994.

She said at least two other victims have told her about ritual abuse by Mr. Warren and that she or other SNAP officials have been contacted by more than a dozen alleged victims of Mr. Warren.

Catherine Hoolahan, an attorney representing a dozen clients with pending lawsuits against the Toledo diocese, said three claim they were abused during rituals and Satanic rites.

"It's scary stuff. You don't think of that as happening in Toledo, Ohio," Ms. Hoolahan said.

The Toledo Diocesan Review Board will meet today for a regularly scheduled session, chairman Frank Link said yesterday. The review board's creation was mandated by the U.S. Bishops Dallas Charter of 2002.

A person familiar with the diocese's investigation said Mr. Warren will be one of the main topics of discussion at today's review board session, adding that "there are many more victims of Chet Warren than have been reported so far."

Mr. Warren could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Rev. James Cryan, head of the Oblates' Toledo-Detroit province, could not be reached for comment about the allegations against Mr. Warren.

Father Robinson, a diocesan priest of 40 years and known by many clerics and parishioners as a quiet, gentle man, was questioned for several hours Friday afternoon at his tidy brick home next to the Toledo Police Scott Park District Station and arrested about 10:15 p.m.

Investigators say the priest murdered Sister Margaret Ann, strangling her to death. Her body had been wrapped in an altar cloth and stabbed up to 32 times in the neck and torso.

Sister Margaret Ann's body was posed to look as if she had been sexually abused, but the cold-case squad that reopened the investigation said there was no evidence of sexual activity.

Detective Steve Forrester of the Toledo police and Tom Ross, an investigator for the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, said Saturday that they believe that Father Robinson acted alone and that the nun's murder was part of a religious ceremony.

Police in 1980 claimed that they lacked the evidence to arrest the priest, and the cold-case squad said it found something "startling" when investigators took a new look at the physical evidence. They said developments in "blood transfer patterns" technology will prove that a weapon belonging to Father Robinson was responsible.

Father Robinson's attorney, John Thebes, said his client maintains his innocence and the effort under way by some community members to help post the priest's bail has been "very positive and heartwarming."

Mr. Thebes said many people who aren't related to Father Robinson are willing to put up their homes to help him post bond.

But, he said, there is a lot of paperwork, such as property deeds and mortgage notes, that comes with the process.

Bishop Blair, who has said he is deeply saddened by Father Robinson's arrest and the reports of ritual abuse, leaves today for Rome with Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly for their semiannual meeting with Pope John Paul II.

Blade staff writers Christina Hall and Robin Erb contributed to this report.

Contact David Yonke at

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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