Ad for Convicted Priest Draws Protest

The Associated Press, carried in The Beacon Journal
September 20, 2006

Toledo, Ohio - An announcement in a church bulletin about a chicken-dinner fundraiser for a priest convicted of killing a nun has struck a nerve, prompting a protest from a parishioner.

The announcement by friends and supporters of the Rev. Gerald Robinson was in St. Hedwig Catholic Church's bulletin on Sunday, listed between notices about a prayer service and a polka night.

"I was very, very offended by seeing that in the bulletin," Mike Drabik, 50, a longtime church member told The Blade for a story in Wednesday's paper.

Robinson was found guilty on May 11 of choking and stabbing Sister Margaret Ann Pahl while she was preparing a hospital chapel for Easter weekend services at Mercy Hospital on April 5, 1980. He was sentenced to a mandatory term of 15 years to life in prison.

The priest, who was barred from the ministry after his arrest and later retired, has appealed. His supporters are selling $15 chicken dinners to raise money for his defense fund.

On Monday, Drabik sent an e-mail to Bishop Leonard Blair saying the bulletin item was inappropriate and "appears to give a semblance of sanctioning to and a proclamation of this priest's innocence."

The Rev. Michael Billian, episcopal vicar for the diocese, responded by e-mail, stating that the bishop's office and the Diocese of Toledo did not grant permission for the ad to be placed in parish bulletins.

"In fact, the contrary is true. We have told parishes NOT to advertise this event," Billian wrote.

Attorney John Donahue, who is representing Robinson in his appeal, said Wednesday that supporters of Robinson wrote letters about the fundraiser to individual parishioners and initially wanted to put the announcement in the bulletin, but decided against it when told that the bishop and diocese opposed it.

"Someone placed that in without our knowledge or authorization," Donahue said.

However, he said many people have expressed support for Robinson.

"There are a lot of people who believe in his innocence, myself included," he said.

Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, urged Blair and Billian to be more forceful in barring Robinson's supporters from using the church to raise money for him.

"Some people will never believe that a priest could harm a child or kill a nun unless they hear it from the priest or the bishop," Vercellotti said. "Absent of a clear message, people are left to find meaning and answers on their own."


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