BOOK REVIEW: WHEN SATAN WORE A CROSS
Old movies such as Bing Crosby’s “Going My Way” and Spencer Tracy’s “Boys Town” have largely shaped the public view of Catholic priests as saintly and above human urges. The devout want to believe that those in charge of the earthly business of dispensing religion would not cross the line into murder. The Catholic church has spread its tentacles into all areas of law enforcement, demanding cover-ups for its priestly pedophiles and other criminals in church clothing. The first murder of a nun in 1980 Toledo, Ohio rated national attention, but its priestly perpetrator would not be prosecuted for another 26 years.
71 year-old Sister Margaret Pahl devoted her entire life to service to her church, as a nun. Father Gerald Robinson’s truncation of a prayer for Mass was an event of monstrous outrage in her narrow, fussy existence. Father Robinson, in his mid-forties, had been a priest for several decades. His flat unemotional personality led his church to place him in increasingly less auspicious positions. Each person’s faults were magnified in the eyes of the other, until the emotion erupted into murder.
In the intervening years between Pahl’s murder and Robinson’s prosecution, church crimes were stripped bare to the public, and Satanic cults in which clergy participated exposed. Despite the hysteria generated by false memories, as in the Eileen Franklin case, or by false allegations of Satanic ritual abuse, as in the McMartin pre-school case, it became clear that many of the cases of pedophilia and Satanic cults were true.
The emotional rationale of what propels a person across the line from acceptable behavior to unacceptable has long fascinated this reviewer. Without the religious aspects, it is likely the Pahl homicide investigation would have followed the path of countless others which remain unreported. A sociopath in vestments is still a sociopath.
REVIEWED BY A. ROLFINGSMEIER
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