In 1980 in Toledo, Ohio—on one of the holiest days of the church calendar—the body of a nun was discovered in the sacristy of a hospital chapel. Seventy-one-year-old Sister Margaret Ann had been strangled and stabbed, her corpse arranged in a shameful and stomach-churning pose. But the police's most likely suspect was inexplicably released and the investigation was quietly buried. Despite damning evidence, Father Gerald Robinson went free.
Twenty-three years later the priest's name resurfaced in connection with a bizarre case of satanic ritual and abuse. It prompted investigators to exhume the remains of the slain nun in search of the proof left behind that would indelibly mark Father Robinson as Sister Margaret Ann's killer: the sign of the Devil.
When Satan Wore a Cross is a shocking true story of official cover-ups, madness, murder and lies—and of an unholy human monster who disguised himself in holy garb.
Long before the medical examiner's knife enters her thorax, a female murder victim starts out as somebody's daughter.
President Taft had just installed his jumbo girth in the White House. Back in his home state of Ohio, the rural hamlet of Edgerton had not yet been completely wired for electricity. It was in Edgerton that Margaret Ann Pahl came into the world on April 6, 1909. Margaret Ann was the fourth of nine children born to farmers Frank and Catherine Pahl.
Devout Catholics, the Pahls followed all the precepts of the Catholic Church and believed faithfully in the seven sacraments within which Christ dwells: baptism, confession, the Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders (ordination to the ministry), and extreme unction (anointing the sick, dying, and dead). The Pahls believed in passing on these beliefs and values to their children.
As Margaret Ann grew older, she attended Catholic school, where she learned that of the seven sacraments, the most important was the Eucharist. At first glance, the Eucharist is simply a wafer and some wine. But during the third part of the Catholic Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, transubstantiation takes place. When the priest says the Eucharistic Prayer over the wafer and wine, they transubstantiate, or change literally into the body and blood of Christ, which are then ingested by the parishioners who come forward to take Communion.
During her growing-up years, Margaret Ann took Communion many times. She discovered that after Mass, the consecrated hosts were placed for 363 days in the tabernacle. The tabernacle is a fixed lock box usually placed on the main altar of the church. It was there almost all year for parishioners to venerate. Only on Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified, and on Holy Saturday, the day before his Resurrection, was the Eucharist stored in the sacristy, the dressing room adjacent to the church chapel. Such detail fascinated Margaret Ann and made her feel part of something greater than herself.
Margaret Ann finished high school shortly after her eighteenth birthday in 1927. While America blithely danced the Charleston away into the Great Depression, and Calvin Coolidge made less money than Babe Ruth precisely because of that, Margaret Ann had decided to serve her Lord. It is hard to say exactly when, but by the time she finished high school, it was clear to family and friends alike that she had been touched by God's vision for her life.
Margaret Ann would serve him by becoming a novitiate in the Sisters of Mercy, the order founded by Catherine McAuley in Dublin, Ireland, a century earlier. Margaret Ann had been divinely inspired by no less a person than the nineteenth century's Mother Teresa.
Such is Catherine McAuley's continued popularity that her image graces the most recent Irish five-pound note. The painting on the bill shows a woman with piercing black eyes, a long aquiline nose, thin lips, and a strong, resolute chin. Catherine is wearing the traditional Sisters of Mercy black and white headdress that would become their trademark.
There was gentleness to Catherine, but behind that piercing gaze was a clear, steely resolve she inherited from her father. Catherine was born September 29, 1787, at Stormanstown House, a private estate in Dublin, Ireland. The first of three children born to James McAuley, Catherine realized early that her father came from an old and distinguished Irish Catholic family that had managed to survive when Catholicism had been all but crushed in Ireland. James McAuley spent more than he could afford to help the poor and infirm. The example was not lost on the young Catherine.
After McAuley died in 1794, his widow couldn't get her financial affairs in order. Forced to sell Stormanstown House, she moved with her brood to Dublin. There, the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "the family came so completely under the influence of Protestant fashionable society that all, with the exception of Catherine, became Protestants. She revered the memory of her father too greatly to embrace a religion he abhorred."
Tragedy struck the McAuley family yet again when the Widow McAuley suddenly died. The three orphaned McAuley children were passed along to a distant family member who squandered their inheritance. As they were passed along again and again like so much human detritus, each "guardian" did the best he could to drum the Protestant Reformation into their heads.
At first, Catherine flat-out refused—a perilous position for a female orphan without tuppence to her name. A single woman without money or prospects in early nineteenth-century Dublin had no rights. Some of Catherine's good friends emphatically tried to convince her to support an arranged marriage. Catherine, of course, declined. She was dogged in refusing to be told how to think, let alone what to do.
Finally, in the interests of family peace, she agreed to experience Protestantism before totally condemning it. Her researches only served to reinforce her Catholic beliefs. She didn't like the Protestant "dissensions and contradictions, the coldness and the barrenness of its spiritual life." It is at this point that Catherine McAuley should have disappeared into the pages of history. But she didn't.
A wealthy relative of Catherine's mother, Simon T. Callahan, suddenly returned from India in 1803. He bought Coolock House a few kilometers outside Dublin, and adopted Catherine. She came to live with her second father on his estate. Soon Catherine showed that she had not forgotten the lessons of James McAuley's charity.
For the next two decades, Catherine spent some of Callahan's fortune in the service of the Catholic sick and poor. The compromise was that Callahan, a Protestant, would not allow any Church icons into his home. It was a fair bargain, but Catherine worked on him. On his deathbed in 1822, Callahan's hard Protestant heart finally melted. Baptized a Catholic, Callahan took his first Communion and then died, leaving his entire fortune to Catherine.
The sudden turn in her circumstances was not lost on Catherine.