When Gerald Robinson, a Roman Catholic priest for 50 years, died on July 4, two factors were unresolved.
The appeals process after his 2006 conviction of the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl had not been exhausted and, with his death, the courts will not take further action, so officially and legally, he died a murderer who was convicted by a jury of his peers.
And, because he did not publicly confess to the crime, his life ended without good or evil being determined definitively, according to Catholic doctrine.
RELATED ARTICLE: Hundreds attend funeral of convicted priest
Because his appeal of the criminal conviction was ongoing, he remained a priest, according to church officials, even though he had been barred from giving public ministry.
He will be buried as a priest today, with interment at Calvary Cemetery after an 11 a.m. funeral at St. Hyacinth Church, 719 Evesham Ave.
In a statement from the Diocese of Toledo, the Rev. Charles Ritter, administrator of the diocese until Pope Francis names a new bishop, said, “Whether in the eyes of God, Father Robinson was or was not guilty of this crime, I do not know.
“I do know that he is the work of God’s hands, as are we all. He was a sinner, as are we all.
“He was a baptized member of the body of Christ, and he was, and remains, an ordained priest of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the context in which his funeral will take place.”
But, according to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, what is the state of Robinson’s soul? Did he commit a sin that damned him to hell? Or was he innocent and is now in heaven?
The doctrine of his church says that if he killed another human but did not confess it, he committed a grave sin and eternal salvation is not possible.
Murder is “gravely contrary to the dignity of the human being, to the golden rule, and to the holiness of the Creator,” says paragraph 2261 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 1857 says a mortal sin is “grave matter ... committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”
Attorneys for Robinson presented documents alleging that another person, serial killer Coral Eugene Watts, strangled and stabbed Sister Margaret Ann.
Robinson’s murder trial generated nationwide publicity, including interest by Court TV, which has changed its name to truTV.
If Robinson was indeed innocent of the crime and continued to live in an appropriately Christian way during his incarceration, then the church would consider his soul to be bound for heaven.
If Robinson confessed privately that he killed Sister Margaret Ann, but continued publicly to assert his innocence, that would not be seen as repentant.
“The sacrament of penance requires full contrition of every sinful act,” noted Peter Feldmeier, holder of the Margaret and Thomas Murray and James J. Bacik Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo.
In his email, Mr. Feldmeier continued, “The very nature of the sacrament is the joining of the fully repentant sinner with a loving God. It is morally and religiously inconceivable that one would privately concede a sinful act, be truly repentant, and then publicly lie about it.
“To falsely declare one’s innocence and to imagine that one’s guilt could be addressed privately would be the height of religious hypocrisy and, in fact, it would make the sacrament invalid for that person.”
If he was innocent, though, earthly legal actions — such as his murder conviction — would presumably have no effect in divinity.
In the Catholic Church’s view of an afterlife, “at the very moment of his death” Robinson received “his eternal retribution in his immortal soul,” according to paragraph 1022 of the catechism. That retribution, it states, is heaven now, heaven after purifying time in purgatory, or hell.
In Catholic beliefs, only God knows the state of Gerald Robinson’s soul.
The earthly lives of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl and Gerald Robinson have now ended.
In their church, their sins were judged at their deaths, in 1980 and 2014.
Their church says that Jesus will come again in final judgment, all will be resurrected, and according to the verse of Matthew 25 in the New Testament, those who were judged will again be sent to heaven and hell.
Contact TK Barger at:
on Twitter @TK_Barger.