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Woman Credited for Events Leading to Gerald Robinson Trial
By Seamus McGraw
April 27, 2006
The Case That Almost Wasn't
Her real name has never been publicly released, but the now 42-year-old
woman identified in court papers and in the press as Jane Doe may
well have done as much as anyone to set in motion the chain of events
that led to the arrest of Father Gerald Robinson and his now ongoing
trial for the murder of an elderly nun nearly two and a half decades
And while those who know her say it was never her intention, there
are some who believe that if the woman, described as accommodating
and cooperative almost to the point of being self-effacing, had
not come forward in 2003, then the case against Robinson might never
have been made.
Ironically, says Claudia Vercellotti, an activist with the local
advocacy group SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests
and other church leaders) who has worked closely with Jane Doe,
the woman had far different intentions when she first emerged in
June of 2003 to recount what she described as an ordeal of ritualized
sexual abuse, Satanic in its overtones, committed, she alleged,
by priests years earlier. Among them, she alleged, was Robinson.
For years, she had kept her allegations largely a secret, but the
haunting after effects, she claimed, had driven her to seek intensive,
and expensive therapy. At last, she brought her story of abuse she
endured years earlier to the Diocese of Toledo's Review Board.
By all accounts, she was not seeking the prosecution of those she
alleged had molested her. At least not at first. Instead, swayed
by the church's pledge that it would remunerate victims of sex abuse
by priests, she came seeking $50,000 to cover the cost of years
of therapy as a result of the alleged abuse.
What happened next remains a subject of controversy.
Did The Diocese Do Enough?
The Toledo Diocese has long maintained that it treated the woman
professionally, and took her claims seriously enough that they hired
two retired police officers to investigate them. According to published
reports, the two former officers, John Connors and Lawrence Knannlein,
spent some some interviewing the woman, They were, Connors would
later tell reporters, stunned by her allegations that she had been
abused by priests in bizarre rituals, often involving candles and
altars from the time she was a preschooler until she was 14. Though
she identified her primary abuser as Father Chet Warren, a priest
who was later defrocked, she said three others also abused her.
On one of those occasions, she alleged, Robinson was her abuser,
though in that case, she said, the trappings of ritual were omitted.
At some point, the Diocese has maintained, it forwarded the information
the woman had provided to the authorities.
But Vercellotti contends that the Diocese was far less proactive
than it has claimed. Though a year earlier, the conference of American
bishops, rocked by mounting allegations of sexual abuse by priests
had met in Dallas, Texas, and agreed to what has become known as
the Dallas Charter, pledging "openness, honesty and transparency"
in their dealings with alleged victims, and through the Toledo Diocese
itself had signed a similar special agreement with the local prosecutor,
the Diocese, she contends dragged its heels on Jane Doe's complaint.
And there is evidence that she is not alone in that opinion. According
to published reports and one member of the board, a psychologist
named Robert Cooley insisted that the woman's allegations be reported
immediately to police. In a letter dated June 12, one day after
the woman had appeared before the board, and addressed to Diocesan
Case Manager Frank DiLallo, the Diocese's attorney, Thomas G. Pletz
argued that the board was under no legal obligation to do so.
Pletz further maintained "that this person's Diocesan file
was reviewed by the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office last year.
Vercellotti says she was and remains skeptical of that contention,
arguing that Jane Doe had not approached the Diocese with her complaints
until the day before Pletz' letter.
Two weeks later, Pletz again wrote, this time to Frank Link, chairman
of the review board, again maintaining that prosecutors had been
fully informed of the woman's allegations. And a short time later,
Cooley, who had continued to insist that the board notify police,
was dismissed from his post.
Throwing a dart with her eyes closed
For the next six months, Jane Doe's case languished. The woman
at the center of it desperately wanted to cooperate with the Diocese,
Vercellotti said. On several occasions during the late summer of
2003, Vercellotti urged Jane Doe to take the case to the prosecutor
herself. But the woman demurred. "She didn't want to step on
their toes," Vercellotti said, and told her that she believed
the diocese officials when they told her "they've already got
their investigation started."
At last, however, Vercellotti decided to pursue another avenue.
"Finally I said to her, could I have your documents, could
I go to the Ohio Attorney General's office?" Vercellotti recalled.
"She gave them to me," Vercellotti said. Vercellotti in
turn passed them along to the Attorney General and the state, apparently
swayed by the allegations, urged the Lucas County Prosecutor to
investigate. In December of 2003, six months after Jane Doe had
first come forward, investigators for the county interviewed the
woman. Since she came forward, at least two other women have also
recounted similar tales of ritual sexual abuse at the hands of priests
during the 1960's. And while investigators were not immediately
able to substantiate the woman's allegations, they did recognize
the name of one of the priests the woman claimed had abused her
The now retired priest had been considered the prime suspect in
the slaying some 23 years earlier of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, a
71-year-old nun who had been found strangled and stabbed to death
on Good Saturday morning on the floor of the chapel at Mercy Hospital
where Robinson had been chaplain. Authorities had never been able
to develop enough evidence to arrest the cleric and the case had
But after two decades in limbo, Jane Doe's story had rekindled
their interest in both the case and in Robinson. In early 2004,
Robinson was arrested and charged with Pahl's murder. He has denied
any role in the nun's death and is currently on trial in Toledo.
As for Jane Doe, she is trying to maintain a low profile. As Vercellotti
put it, she never had any intention "of reopening the Robinson
investigation," but in telling her tale, it was "like
she was throwing a dart with her eyes closed and hit a bull's eye."
And there is, Vercellotti contends, a powerful message in that.
"Even more than her coming forward..... if she hadn't turned
those documents over to SNAP, hadn't allowed us to go to law enforcement,
to the Attorney General's Office on her behalf, this wouldn't have
gone forward," she said. "So what it underscores is how
its so important that victims not turn to lay review board, however
well intended.... they need to go to the cops, they need to go to