Don't Forget the Victim

Toledo Blade [Toledo OH]
Downloaded April 30, 2004

WHETHER the Rev. Gerald Robinson is guilty of the 1980 murder of a nun in a local Catholic hospital chapel's sacristy is for the criminal justice system to sort out. He's presumed innocent, and that doesn't change unless he's convicted in a court of law.

But those who are rallying to his defense should not get so caught up in their stout devotion to the man that they, and the community, lose sight of the fact that Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was brutally murdered 24 years ago in horrifying circumstances.

It's important to keep the victim in mind here. Sister Margaret Ann was a much loved figure in the church, working at what then was still Mercy Hospital. But she's been gone now for a generation, and memories fade.

Adding to the bizarre nature of this case is the church's delay in sharing what it knew with law enforcement.

The Toledo Catholic Diocese has no role in criminal investigation. Yet its own review board fired one of its members, Dr. Robert Cooley, who brought to law enforcement's attention other reports of wrongdoing alleged against Father Robinson.

This is on the heels of the church's pedophile priest problem, in which church officials looked into alleged criminal behavior and adjudicated its substance, without calling in legal authorities. Investigating alleged crimes and judging the evidence are not tasks the diocese can credibly do and shouldn't try. That's police work.

Diocesan officials have a civic obligation, indeed a moral duty, to bring allegations of crime to the police. Alleged clergy sex abuse victims should do the same, reporting them to church officials after the fact.

If nothing else, a police investigation, whatever its results, would liberate the diocese from the unavoidable conclusions that put it in such a bad public position now. Whatever the outcome, church officials would not be fomenting public mistrust.

The diocese invites more public bruising, more disdain from communicants, and worsening assessments of its credibility by keeping bad behaviors secret until it becomes public in a shocking manner. The arrest of Father Robinson by Toledo police makes that point.

Forthrightness and good citizenship are necessary if the diocese doesn't want to keep conveying the impressions of subterfuge, cover-up, and irresponsibility that have plagued Roman Catholicism here and in Western Europe for nearly two decades of sex scandals.

Given the fallout from the church's tendency to stonewall reports of sexual abuse of children by priests, it's natural to wonder what the diocese thought it would gain by not coming forward early with the latest allegations against Father Robinson.


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