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Published: 5/12/2006

Catholic officials, including Sisters of Mercy, urge healing, forgiveness

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sisters Marjorie Rudemiller, left, and Dorothy Thum leave the courthouse. Sister Marjorie thanked police and prosecutors. Sisters Marjorie Rudemiller, left, and Dorothy Thum leave the courthouse. Sister Marjorie thanked police and prosecutors.
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Catholic officials responded yesterday to the murder conviction of Gerald Robinson with formal, prepared statements urging healing and forgiveness.

Meanwhile, others who had pledged support to the 68-year-old retired priest expressed an equally steadfast refusal to accept the jury's judgment.

Shortly before a Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury's announcement it had found Robinson guilty of the brutal 1980 slaying of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, a spokesman for the Toledo Catholic Diocese contacted The Blade to say the diocese would have a prepared statement on the verdict but would not take questions at a press conference.

In his prepared statement, Bishop Leonard Blair called for healing and prayers for all involved in the trial - including Robinson.

"Let us 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," he said.

Robinson, he stated, is a retired priest who "continues to be barred from any public ministry."

The diocesan spokesman, Sally Oberski, said the unprecedented murder conviction of a priest has left her and the diocese at a loss.

Bishop Blair would initiate the process with a recommendation for dealing with Robinson's future with the church as a priest, but the Vatican would ultimately have the final say, she said.

"I'm sure [the Vatican] will be involved," she said.

"As of today, his status has not changed from his current status as being barred from public ministry. He's still a priest. We don't know [what's next]. We've never had to deal with this," she explained.

Hours later, in a conference room at the former Mercy Hospital where Sister Margaret was slain 26 years ago, an official with the Sisters of Mercy also read a prepared statement and refused any questions.

Sister Marjorie Rudemiller - president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, Regional Community of Cincinnati, which includes Toledo - did not mention Robinson by name as she read the prepared statement.

Sister Marjorie, who did not personally know Sister Margaret, thanked the Toledo police, the Lucas County prosecutor's office, and the trial's witnesses and jury, whose decision she said she respected.

"We have prayed for truth to prevail and for a fair and just trial. The jury has spoken, and we respect their decision," she said.

"God's grace enables us to forgive the person who caused her death," Sister Marjorie said.

But Jack Sparagowski - a former parishioner and longtime friend of Robinson - said he still believes in the retired priest's innocence, regardless of the jury's judgment.

"I was absolutely shocked and stunned," he said of the verdict. "From purely what I thought was an objective point of view, I didn't think the prosecution had delivered enough compelling evidence for a conviction," he said.

Mr. Sparagowski said other parishioners at Resurrection Polish National Catholic Church, which he co-founded and which conducted a mass for Robinson during the trial, are equally distraught.

"Everyone that I've spoken to today, 20 people at least, feels the same way I do," he said. "We believed in his innocence - and still do."

Other steadfast Robinson supporters - including two families who used their homes to post a $400,000 property equity bond for the priest after he was arrested in 2004 - either hung up or did not return calls from The Blade for comment.

A woman who identified herself as the sister of Bea Orlowski, Robinson's secretary of 11 years, and who answered the phone at Ms. Orlowski's residence, said her sister did not wish to comment on the verdict.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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