Activists pushing Toledo to remove Schmit street signsWritten by Scott McKimmy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Justice has been served for the murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl more than 27 years ago with the conviction of Father Gerald Robinson in May 2006, but a relative of the victim and a victim’s advocacy group continue to pursue a cause in the aftermath of the case.
Of the streets signs surrounding Fifth Third Field that honor local leaders who stand out in Mud Hens history, two bear the name of Monsignor Jerome Schmit, a Catholic priest who dedicated his life to the church and sports in the community. But according to Lee Pahl, nephew of Sister Pahl, and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Monsignor Schmit also interferred with the murder investigation of Father Robinson.
They want the signs removed.
“We are concerned any time a clergyman is given accolades when he is involved in wrongdoing,” said Barbara Blaine, SNAP president. “And we believe that Monsignor Schmit was on the wrong side back in 1980 when Monsignor Schmit made the decision to try to help the priest defend himself. We think Monsignor Schmit should have been trying to help the police uncover who the murderer was of the nun, and we think he should have been reaching out to the family.”
Blaine referred to testimony at Robinson’s trial by two retired Toledo Police investigators, Detective Arthur Marx and Lt. William Kina, which suggested that Monsignor Schmit used his influence as a community leader to halt Robinson’s interrogation and, ultimately, the investigation itself. Marx testified that retired Deputy Chief Ray Vetter ordered all police reports in the case to be turned over to his office. Both witnesses said Vetter and Monsignor Schmit interrupted the interrogation, and Robinson subsequently left accompanied by the priest.
Pahl, who closely followed the trial of his aunt’s murderer, said he believes Vetter’s seizure of the documents “was not standard procedure.” And while he wishes there was more solid evidence of Monsignor Schmit’s role in the investigation, he still “takes seriously what someone says under oath.”
“They testified; I was sitting in the courtroom. I was there just about every day, and they testified under oath that that actually happened,” Pahl said. “Vetter as well, but he didn’t admit that this happened. But he really didn’t deny it either, the way I took it.
“There were three copies [of the police reports]; one of them was supposed to go to Vetter, but the other two were supposed to go to other places. And it’s just a funny thing that all of those reports are missing.”
Accusations against Monsignor Schmit never arose until after his death at age 86 in 1997. During his career with the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, he served as youth director, assistant director of Catholic Charities and pastor of St. Patrick Historic Church. He also oversaw the Catholic Club and restoration of the Westminster Gym. He created the Catholic Youth Organization with an initial budget of $27 and played a pivotal role in bringing back the Toledo Mud Hens when the Lucas County Recreation Center opened in 1964.
“We’re not saying anything about the other good works that Monsignor Schmit may have accomplished in his lifetime,” Blaine said. “The problem is is that his involvement, which is not even under dispute, clearly assisted Father Robinson in having over two decades of not being in jail. And we just think that it’s wrong.
“We’re not suggesting that what Monsignor Schmit did was illegal; we’re not suggesting that he should have been criminally prosecuted for his actions. We’re not suggesting that he should have received any punishment. All we are suggesting is that we not hold him out as a hero by dedicating a street to be named after him, even if it’s in an honorary way.”
Legal point of view
Despite SNAP’s claims that Monsignor Schmit interfered with the murder investigation, Frank S. Merritt, UT professor of law, addressed whether one could interfere without committing a crime. He said he believes it’s perfectly logical to assume Father Robinson revealed no information of use to the investigation to Monsignor Schmit. However, he emphasized, no one probably will ever know.
“Now, you can make the claim that Robinson told Schmit something, and Schmit didn’t pass it on — on the surface there’s no priest-penitent privilege there,” Merritt explained. “So Schmit, if he hid [something], could be said to be interfering with an investigation, but I don’t see any facts suggesting that.”
Nevertheless, Pahl and SNAP are pressing city leaders and raising awareness, not only in Toledo, but throughout the country. In Jasper, Ind., a bishop recently called for the removal of all photos and rescinding of all honors given to a deceased priest because of allegations of sexual abuse arising after his death. A Catholic college in Davenport, Iowa removed the name of another priest accused of molestation while he lies in his grave.
If successful, the drive to remove the “Msgr. Jerome Schmit Way” signs likely would be the first case of a priest dishonored for interfering with a murder investigation.
Pahl said he sent letters in June to Mayor Carleton Finkbeiner, Mud Hens Vice President and General Manager Joe Napoli and Toledo City Council members Michael Ashford and Rob Ludeman. He also wrote Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, asking him to send a letter of support to Toledo City Council in favor of removing the signs.
So far, only the mayor responded in a letter saying, “I don’t believe that it’s fair to prosecute a human being after he is deceased. I have empathy for you and your family. However, to now judge Monsignor Schmit does not correct the original situation.”
In May, the mayor responded to a letter from SNAP, writing, “This matter should be taken up with the Mud
Hens Board. The City of Toledo is prohibited by Section 79 of the Toledo Municipal Code from involvement with the ball park.”
Section 79 essentially states that development within the Marina District requires voter approval, according to Merritt. City Council originally passed an ordinance dedicating sections of Washington, Huron, St. Clair and Monroe streets in honor of Gene Cook, Ned Skeldon, Monsignor Schmit and Henry Morse, respectively. Merritt said he thinks perhaps Finkbeiner misunderstood.
“The only thing that Carty can say is that, ‘it’s City Council; it’s not me,’” he said. “He can certainly propose legislation, so it’s not out of his hand by any means. The city may have done it on request of the Mud Hens or the county, but it’s still a city act.”
Finkbeiner was on vacation at press time and could not be reached for comment, according to Brian Schwartz, the mayor’s executive assistant and public information officer.
Pahl, too, questioned the mayor’s response, saying if the ordinance authorized the placing of the signs, the city could pass additional legislation to remove them. He also questioned the Mud Hens lack of response to his letter, wondering what would compel the organization to ignore his request and take no action to remove the signs.
“I would think that the Mud Hens would want to [take the signs down], and I understand all Monsignor Schmit did for the Mud Hens organization and so on. But if you cover up a murder investigation, I think maybe that kind of trumps the good maybe he did for baseball,” he said.
“The Mud Hens are really a great organization, and they’re a very positive influence on Toledo, and I don’t think anybody really wants to drag them through the mud, so to speak. But I would think … they would take a look at this and say, ‘Hey, maybe we don’t want those signs up there.’ ”
“I’m gonna let people, for a while, let their conscience work on them for a little bit or be their guide and see what happens. I’m not going to drop it.”
Mud Hens VP Joe Napoli declined to comment on the issue.