Snap: Sign Dishonors Pahl

By Claudia Yvonne Vercellotti
Toledo Free Press [Toledo OH]
July 6, 2007

Imagine our nation's capitol erecting monuments to those who covered up Watergate? What if southern cities publicly honored racists who blocked FBI probes into crimes against civil rights workers? What if Texas leaders named buildings after accountants who buried the truth about Enron?

Who wouldn't be outraged?

So why aren't Toledo City Council, the Mayor, and Toledo Mud Hen's more upset about "Monsignor Jerome Schmit Parkway" which runs alongside Fifth Third Field?

In 1980, Sr. Margaret Ann Pahl was murdered. A thorough investigation followed and police zeroed in on a prime suspect: Toledo Catholic Diocesan priest, Gerald Robinson. After interviewing him they found the murder weapon in his apartment.

During a second police interview, the unthinkable happened. A high-ranking diocesan official, Monsignor Jerome Schmit, with legal counsel and former Deputy Chief Ray Vetter showed up. The interrogation ended mid-stream.

Lead investigators Art Marx and William Kina were actually removed from their own interrogation room and left to pace the hallway. When the door finally re-opened, Msgr. Schmit left with Fr. Robinson. The unsolved murder investigation was closed inside of three weeks.

Not until 2004 would police have another chance to sit down with Fr. Robinson. Thanks to the courage of another clergy sexual abuse survivor and outstanding police work, the investigation was re-opened. Ultimately, Fr. Robinson was convicted of murdering Sr. Pahl.

What makes us think Msgr. Schmit used his position and power to block the murder probe? The trial court testimony of Marx and Kina is too compelling to ignore. During Fr. Robinson's murder trial, these veteran officers testified that their investigation was halted after Msgr. Schmit and the Deputy Chief interrupted.

What's equally compelling is the outcome. Didn't the investigation come to a grinding halt after Monsignor Schmit was on the scene? Vetter contends Monsignor Schmit was only there to "help." Doesn't the outcome refute this and support the testimony of Marx and Kina? What could be worse?

Pahl was murdered on April 5 and 22 years later — to the day — April 5, 2002, Toledo City Council, (without the benefit of Marx and Kina's knowledge), dedicated a public street sign bearing the Mud Hens logo to Schmit.

So the man who obstructed her murder investigation gets a public tribute dedicated on the anniversary of her death? Insult to injury aside, isn't this bad public policy?

Msgr. Schmit's public tribute essentially honors him for being a "mover and shaker." But wasn't it precisely those skills that helped end the 1980 murder probe?

Isn't this the same fact pattern (church officials covering the crimes of clerics), mirrored in the local and national clergy sexual abuse scandal that has devastated communities nationwide?

It's tempting to point fingers and assess blame. But more importantly, who can fix this?

n The Mayor: On WTVG Carty demanded the Bishop remove tributes to abusive clerics. Why is Mayor Finkbeiner flip-flopping now?

n Toledo City Council: In light of new evidence, why not dissolve the original resolution?

n Toledo Mud Hens: The Mayor stated it's up to them to change the sign. So, if they publicly denounced this injustice, wouldn't city leaders listen and act?

n You. Got a phone, envelope, computer or voice? Speak out! Contact these officials and demand they stop compounding the suffering of Sr. Pahl's grieving family and quit sending mixed messages to Toledo crime victims.

At the end of the day, it shouldn't be politics that keeps the sign up but a simple "gut check" that inspires its removal. Who among us could sit idle if this were our family member brutally slain and the man who helped divert justice got a public street sign named after him on the anniversary of her murder?

If everyone employed a simple gut check, how long would the line be to shimmy up that street pole, and remove the sign ourselves — if only in our mind?

This is no street-sign squabble. It's about public policy and human decency. In the interest of healing, justice and closure, is it ever too late to do the right thing?


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