- LOS ANGELES -- Depending
on whom you believe, Gerald Robinson is either a quiet, somewhat remote,
balding cleric who has faithfully served the Catholic Church for the past
40 years, or a sexual pervert and participant in bizarre Satanic rituals
who killed a 71-year-old nun and covered up the crime.
- Either way, the 66-year-old priest is the talk of the
Rust Belt town of Toledo, Ohio, where he has been arraigned on murder charges
and imprisoned in the county jail after his arrest last weekend.
- His case is not only replete with details straight out
of a Gothic melodrama, including one particularly lurid report of a ritual
involving a teenage girl, a snake and a human eyeball. It is also once
more throwing an unwelcome spotlight on the moral integrity of the Catholic
hierarchy, which in this case supported Fr Robinson and allowed him to
continue his pastoral duties even after he was formally placed under investigation
for murder last year.
- At the heart of the matter is the killing of Sister Margaret
Ann Pahl in the sacristy of a church hospital on Easter Saturday 24 years
ago. Sister Margaret Ann was one day short of her 72nd birthday when she
was strangled and then stabbed between 27 and 32 times.
- Police say that Fr Robinson was a suspect from the start
- a factor that did not prevent him from officiating at Sister Margaret
Ann's funeral. They also believed some kind of ritual was involved, since
the nun's body was found covered with an altar cloth. At the time, however,
the evidence trail went cold, in part because the murder scene had been
scrupulously cleaned up before the police arrived. The authorities offered
nearly $30,000 for information that could solve the case, but none was
- Nothing new emerged until last year, when a woman whose
identity has been kept secret testified before a diocesan commission in
Toledo that she had endured years of sexual, physical and psychological
abuse by a group of priests during her childhood and teenage years. Fr
Robinson, she alleged, had sexually assaulted her and forced her to participate
in Satanic rituals.
- Some of her testimony seemed unbelievable - particularly
when she described being placed in a coffin crawling with cockroaches,
being forced to eat a human eyeball and be penetrated with a snake to consecrate
her orifices to Satan. She said the priests had killed children, mutilated
dogs and performed an abortion on her as part of their devil-worship.
- Something about her testimony, however, stirred the interest
of the Toledo police, and triggered the reopening of the inquiry into the
murder of Sister Margaret Ann. Police officials have refused to discuss
what it was they found that they had previously overlooked, saying only
that a part of their evidence involves a criminological technique known
as "blood transfer patterns".
- Grand jury hearings are expected soon, followed by a
decision on whether to remand Fr Robinson for trial.
- Challenged as to why they did not investigate the allegations
of Satanic rituals, church officials have said that the claimswere not
credible. They have not explained why Fr Robinson was not placed on leave
after he was named as a suspect, in apparent violation of their own policies.
He celebrated mass until last week.
- "Their policy dictates that they step down the priest
and launch an investigation," Claudia Vercellotti of a local group
called Snap, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told reporters.
"Why was Father Gerald Robinson not stepped down, given the seriousness
of the allegations?"
- Fr Robinson was granted $20,000 (£11,000) bail,
but was still in jail yesterday as supporters tried to collect the money.
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/story.jsp?story=516002