TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Diocese is taking another look at a woman’s previously dismissed claims of satanic sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests now that one of the clergymen has been charged with the “ritualistic” slaying of a nun 24 years ago.
The Rev. Gerald Robinson was arrested last week on charges of strangling and stabbing Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, 71, about 30 times during Easter weekend 1980. Her body, covered by an altar cloth and surrounded by burning candles, was found in a hospital chapel.
Pahl’s body was posed to look as if she had been sexually assaulted, but investigators said they found no evidence of sexual activity.
Bishop Leonard Blair announced Tuesday that a seven-member diocesan review board will re-examine allegations made by a woman who told the panel in June that when she was a child she was physically and sexually abused by several priests, including Robinson.
The panel had a regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, but what was discussed is confidential, said diocese spokeswoman Sally Oberski.
The woman described satanic ceremonies in which clergy members placed her in a coffin filled with cockroaches, forced her to swallow what she believed to be a human eyeball and penetrated her with a snake “to consecrate these orifices to Satan.”
The diocese had decided not to forward the woman’s claims to authorities because it could not substantiate them.
However, the allegations were brought to the attention of prosecutors in a letter received in December, assistant prosecutor Gary Cook said Monday. He would not say who sent the letter.
Three other people have said they also were abused by priests in rituals, said Catherine Hoolahan, an attorney who represents about a dozen people with abuse lawsuits against the Toledo Diocese. They all mentioned similar occurrences, she said, but she would not provide details.
Not all those who made the claims have filed lawsuits, and none of the allegations were against Robinson, she said.
Hoolahan said the victims, both men and women, could not recall how many priests abused them.
“Remember, they were children,” she said. “They were scared to death, but they remember a bunch – a large number.”
The diocese said it decided to re-examine the allegations because of findings by two of its own investigators. The bishop’s announcement did not elaborate, and diocese officials did not return calls Wednesday.
Police Capt. Mike Murphy would not say if police were investigating the abuse allegations.
Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said people committing ritual crimes seek sexual gratification by posing their victims in certain ways or by making them say certain things or act in a certain way.
It is also common for a sexual offender to kill one of his victims but not the others, he said.
But Kenneth Lanning, a former FBI agent who studied hundreds of cases of alleged satanic abuse, said he found no documented examples of organized group ritual abuse.
“There were cases of bizarre crimes or people dabbling in the occult who performed bizarre crimes,” he said. But he said there no evidence of a group or cult coordinating the abuse.
Robinson remained in jail Wednesday. Supporters said they had enough money and property to meet his $200,000 bail but needed to complete the paperwork. The diocese is not paying the priest’s legal bills.