Vercellotti: Convicted priest’s funeral insensitive, outrageousWritten by Guest Author | | GuestAuthor@toledofreepress.com
In 2006, when Toledo Catholic Diocesan priest Father Gerald Robinson was convicted of the brutal murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, many wanted to believe he was just a “bad apple” and that the Toledo Catholic Diocese was not a “bad pie.” However, the controversy surrounding diocesan administrator Father Charles Ritter’s decision to bury Robinson as a Catholic priest, arguably weakens that position.
Since Robinson’s passing, we’ve heard from many upset groups.
First, there are Catholics, some offended that a convicted murderer is being buried as a “priest in good standing.” Then, there are victims of violent crimes and their loved ones, distraught that Catholic officials show such disregard for those whose loved ones have been murdered. Next, there are child sex abuse victims, devastated that Robinson is being afforded such honors, because he’s also an accused child molester. Finally, there are average citizens. Some have called this callous move by Robinson’s church supervisors another example of their flagrant disregard for anyone outside of their exclusive membership.
For each person who has reached out to us, we share all of their pain and outrage. What good could come from the Toledo Catholic Diocese honoring a convicted murderer? It is apparent that the feelings of those slighted don’t matter much to key diocesan decision-makers. It seems the feelings of Robinson’s church colleagues are weighted higher, and those colleagues apparently feel it’s appropriate to bury a convicted murderer in full priestly robes with full priestly honors. They seem blind to the fact that this rubs even more salt into the already-deep and still-fresh wounds of so many others who aren’t part of the privileged clerical caste.
The single church official who is perhaps most responsible for this callousness is Father Ritter, who has been vocal that they’ll follow the usual protocol for a diocesan priest’s funeral, as if somehow “business as usual” is OK when dealing with a murderer. Why is Pahl’s life comparatively being so devalued? Is it because she’s an elderly woman and nun? Since priests convicted of murder are exceedingly rare and Robinson is believed to be the first to be convicted of murdering a nun, what protocol covers this unique contingency?
Ritter says his brother priest “was a sinner, as are we all.” How irresponsible is it to treat all sinners equally and ignore the nature of their sins, when that compounds the pain of suffering families? We can forgive those who do wrong. But when should we take actions that favor the guilty and exacerbate the pain of the innocent?
To be clear: Father Robinson died on a soft mattress, with a pillow under his head, covered in a warm blanket, under Hospice care to ensure he did not suffer. Sister Pahl died terrified, in a brutal, unimaginable horror, strangled, stabbed 31 times, soaked in her own blood, on a hard mezzanine floor — the victim of Father Robinson’s unbridled rage.
Ironically, Robinson’s lawyer recently complained that their client was hurt by a delay in prosecuting the case, but fails to mention the source of that delay: another Toledo cleric, Msgr. Jerome Schmit.
It’s been well reported that years ago, while police were questioning Father Robinson following the murder of Sister Pahl, Msgr. Schmit abruptly strode in, grabbed Robinson and walked out, declaring, “This interview is over.” Had not a high-ranking Toledo Catholic cleric interfered with a police interrogation, isn’t it possible that Robinson would likely have been imprisoned decades ago, sparing local Catholics and Pahl’s family considerable grief?
Adding insult to injury, a public Toledo street is now named after Msgr. Schmit. Worse still, it was dedicated on the anniversary of Pahl’s murder. Repeatedly we in the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have asked diocesan church officials to reverse this injustice and remain ignored, which is another example of their disdain for anyone outside their exclusive membership. Catholic officials claim they want victims of clergy misdeeds to step forward, but continue to coddle, protect and honor criminal clerics. How does that encourage people to speak up? After all, if diocesan officials welcome a convicted murderer back into their midst, what real hope do clergy sexual abuse victims have?
Nothing will bring Sister Pahl back. Nothing can magically erase the decades of pain and loss her family and Mercy sisters have endured. But surely some top Catholic official – in Toledo, in Ohio or in Rome – can see that celebrating her murderer with a priest funeral is insensitive and will find the courage within to stop it.
High honors should be reserved for the victims, like Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, who selflessly devoted her life to helping others. If you can murder an elderly nun and still be a Catholic priest, how low is that bar? If you can justify burying a convicted murderer as a Catholic priest for any reason, how spoiled is that pie?
Claudia Vercellotti co-founded the first Ohio chapter of Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in 2002, and has testified in three states before legislators on child protective initiatives. Vercellotti holds a master’s degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in forensic psychology and graduate certifications in child advocacy, patient advocacy, elder law and contemporary gerontological practice. Read more at www.snapnetwork.org.