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Nov 25 2012

How the Catholic church understands transparency

The jaw drops.

The Catholic-school teacher had a pre-teen student pinned to the ground in his Baltimore classroom, the girl’s blouse open and her chest exposed when the doorknob suddenly turned and the school principal — a nun — burst in.

The screaming girl thought she was about to be rescued, according to court records that describe the scene at the Catholic Community Middle School in Locust Point. But Sister Eileen Weisman, who had a key to the room, merely chastised the teacher, John Joseph Merzbacher, for locking the door.

“[Weisman] looked down and her exact words were ‘John, oh John, I told you never to lock the classroom door,’” Linda Tiburzi, who described the incident in a civil court deposition in the mid-1990s, said in a recent interview. “And then she looked at me and said ‘I never want you staying after school again.’ … That’s all she said, that’s all she did, there was nothing, there was no investigation, there were no questions.”

That’s the school principal.

That incident is one of several outlined in court documents, analyzed in a Baltimore Sun investigation, indicating that Weisman and other Catholic officials were aware of the lay teacher’s sexual abuse of students in the 1970s but did not report it until Merzbacher was criminally investigated in the 1990s.

Recent accounts from more than two dozen former pupils and a review of hundreds of pages of documents describe several situations in which critics claim the church had opportunities to protect schoolchildren from Merzbacher, but did not notify police of the allegations against the teacher.

John, oh John, never lock the classroom door.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    critics claim the church had opportunities to protect schoolchildren from Merzbacher, but did not notify police of the allegations against the teacher.

    It’s not surprising. The Catholic Church approves of child rape as is shown in their official policy of protecting and supporting child rapists.

  2. 2
    &drew

    “In a lengthy statement in response to questions from The Sun, spokesman Sean Caine said the church didn’t realize it was obligated to report the allegations when it first learned of them.”

    What planet are these guys living on? Clearly this is an egregious example of Sartrean bad faith. Can’t they be charged with obstruction of justice or somesuch?

  3. 3
    Marie-Thérèse O'Loughlin

    So typical of the religious. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, or there will be explosive consequences. That way the nun will not have to deal with the minefield reality of the situation. One mustn’t rock the U-boat at all costs. It was all pointed back to the schoolgirl ‘I never want you staying after school again.’ as if she was the causation factor of the wrongfulness.

  4. 4
    NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

    You know… I feel like I should be angry. I should be foaming-at-the-mouth livid.

    Yet all I can muster is a pathetic “of course”. Because… depressingly… I’ve come to expect it. I’m just not surprised anymore.

    At all.

    Not even a little bit.

    It’s depressing, to be entirely honest.

  5. 5
    Rutee Katreya

    Eat the church.

  6. 6
    Nathaniel Frein

    Yeahhh, got to read that article.

    I really don’t know how my father can read these articles, shake his head, and go on being a Catholic.

    I just don’t get it.

  7. 7
    Greg

    Nathaniel,

    Your father probably uses the “no true Scotsman” fallacy– “those people weren’t *GOOD* Catholics”.

    What’s disgusting is the behavior of the leaders of those organizations that enabled those a-holes. The leaders should be defrocked, jailed, and put on sexual predator lists.

  8. 8
    sailor1031

    Well to be fair, at the time they didn’t know sexual assault was a crime (we know that because they’ve told us often) and anyway other people were doing it (they’ve told us that too, often) and besides this little slut was just asking for it (as did all the other little sluts and alluring little boys). Do you-all realize the extraordinary effort and dedication, the self-sacrifice involved in satisfying the excessive demands of horny little catholic kids?

  9. 9
    Jafafa Hots

    Your father probably uses the “no true Scotsman” fallacy– “those people weren’t *GOOD* Catholics”.

    I just got that yesterday from a “Pastor” who was outraged at my “Christian-bashing” because I dared point out that the Ugandan “kill the gays” bill was religiously motivated.

    Apparently since he disagrees with their interpretation of the bible*, that means that their motivations are NOT religious.

    (He merely “doesn’t approve of” homosexuality, but doesn’t want anyone killed over it, and no true Christian would either, etc.)

  10. 10
    Tony! The Queer Shoop

    Ophelia:
    My jaw is stuck.
    I honestly thought much of the excuses made for those priests were from people who HEARD of the stories, but never witnessed them. This is disgusting. No, wait. This is evil.

  11. 11
    xmaseveeve

    What, did the nun want to watch?

  12. 12
    Maureen Brian

    Sailor1031,

    Are you not at least perplexed by the fact that everyone else knew it was a crime? Or by the fact that most of the people who “did not know it was a crime” had both a legal and a moral duty of care to the very people they didn’t know it was a crime to abuse?

    There’s special pleading. Then there’s the particular claim made which had been used several million times and shot down in flames as often. And then there’s bloody-minded people talking out of the wrong orifice. I know which I believe this “didn’t know” is.

  13. 13
    Q.E.D

    maureen, you may want to recalibrate your satire meter.

  14. 14
    aziraphale

    “He once fired a revolver in class, students testified during Merzbacher’s trial, and routinely used the weapon to threaten children with death.”

    I suppose that went unnoticed, too.

    Or maybe, if you routinely threaten children with Hell, death threats are no big deal.

  15. 15
    A Hermit

    But it’s so hard to fire teachers, what with tenure and everything…oh wait…

    Gary Homberg, the former Catholic Community Middle School teacher, claims that he told Weisman and two priests — Derwart, now deceased, and Tillman — in 1974 that he “personally observed John Merzbacher sexually touching, molesting and fondling both male and female students” and was told to keep quiet about it or lose his job…

    …Merzbacher was put on administrative leave while Weisman investigated the claims against him and reinstated shortly thereafter via a Feb. 22, 1974, letter from archdiocese attorney Joseph P. McCurdy Jr., which was submitted in court during the criminal case. That same day, the attorney sent a letter to Homberg advising him of his termination.

    The mind boggles; rape your students and the Church will protect you, try to protect students from a rapist and they’ll fire your ass…

    The Baltimore Diocese should have all it’s assets seized, sold and the proceeds given to its victims.

  16. 16
    Anne Marie

    My lovely middle school… yep. It’s all true. Thanks for publishing and publicizing this, Ophelia. The “best” part? When Sister Eileen was finally “kept away from kids” in 2002, they transferred her to Rome with a big going away party and named a new playground after her. She also allowed horrific bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) to occur at this second school were I knew her. In fact, our youth group minister was laying down for “naps” with the pre-firsters (5- to 6-year-olds) and she wouldn’t/didn’t stop it. He was later arrested by the FBI for possession of child porn. And in case anyone’s wondering, my parents complained about her to the monsignor so he knew what was going on and also did not care. There’s more information and details about her and both Merzbacher and Rydzewski here: http://www.touchstonemag.com/blogarchive/2002_07_21_editors.html#79227958

    P.S. There are rumors of an affair between Weisman and Merzbacher.

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson

    Argh. Thank you, Anne Marie – and for the tip about the article in the first place. Lucky, lucky you to have known Sister Eileen personally.

  18. 18
    Valde

    It all comes down to image in the end.

    The whistleblowers get canned b/c they dare to expose the criminal behaviour. The criminals get protected b/c if their behaviour is exposed, everyone looks bad (and the church’s image is more important than some raped kids right).

  19. 19
    geocatherder

    Back when I was growing up Catholic, I was the ugly little fat girl that nobody wanted around — and that probably made me damned lucky to be one of the unmolested ones.

  20. 20
    Anne Marie

    @19: Umm, rape and molestation are not about looks.

  21. 21
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  22. 22
    mnb0

    @Sailor1031: I don’t know about the USA, but in The Netherlands and Suriname a teacher who is accused of sexual harrassment has to prove his/her innocence or will be fired – and will never be allowed to serve in the education system again. This rule has been in practice since decades.
    I have explicitely been told never ever to separate myself with a pupil at school for this very reason. When I need to talk to a pupil in private I always leave the door open – not unlocked, wide open – and make sure I’m visible from the outside.

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