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A Ghost from the Past in Baltimore

October 19th, 2012 · 17 Comments

Victims and Merzbacher and some family members of the victims

Archbishop Lori has written a column, “Remembering the painful past,” in Baltimore’s Catholic Review. He summaries the case of John Merzbacher, who abused dozens of children at a Catholic elementary school in south Baltimore, a school where Sister Eileen Weisman was principal. His version does not jibe with what the victims said or what was said to parents:

From my book, Sacrilege:

One alleged victim said that he saw Merzbacher having intercourse on a table with Sister Eileen Weismann, the principal of the Catholic Community Middle School at which he taught from 1972 to 1979. Several plaintiffs said that Merzbacher bragged about it: “Privately he would say he would have to fuck her so that he could do what he wanted in the school.”

His former students said that Merzbacher had a gun in his desk; he once held it to a victim’s head when he molested her. He had sex, according to the plaintiffs, with many boys and girls during and after school. Sister Eileen, the plaintiffs said, saw the molestation and did nothing. The students were terrified into silence after Merzbacher convinced them that he had Mafia connections. Gary Homberg, who taught at the school with Merzbacher, gave an affidavit in which he said, “I personally observed John Merzbacher sexually touching, molesting, and fondling both male and female students.” After one student came to Homberg to tell him that Merzbacher “was raping him and threatening to kill him if he ever told anyone,” Homberg called a meeting at his house with Sister Eileen, the Rev. Herbert Derwart, another priest, and told them what had happened. The three archdiocesan employees met privately, and then told Homberg “that they would like me to continue as a teacher in the school, but only under the condition that I made no mention to anyone of my observations on John Merzbacher’s sexual misconduct.: Homberg resigned his teaching position, but he did not tell anyone of Merzbacher’s conduct because he was afraid of him.

[Note that this meeting must have occurred during Merzbacher’ tenure at the school, from 1972-1979.]

Sister Eileen Weisman later became principal of the school of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. When the Merzbacher story broke, she spoke to the assembled parents at the Cathedral School and said only, “My conscience is clear.” The parents applauded her. Weisman never said what she knew about what was going on in her former school. Neither the prosecution nor the defense called her as a witness, although the defense attorney had said in his opening statement that Weisman would be called. The trial was terminated abruptly when both sides unexpectedly agreed to stop calling witnesses, even though the defense  had not developed the arguments it had laid out in the opening statement. Merzbacher was convicted on one charge, but all other charges were dismissed, which means that if his conviction is overturned on appeal on a technicality, he cannot easily be tried on the other charges, Therefore, Weisman faces little possibility of being called to testify (and in an case she moved to Rome in 2003).

Merzbacher is appealing his conviction because his attorney did not transmit a plea bargain offer to him. If the conviction is overturned, it will be almost impossible to retry him, as the other charges were dismissed with prejudice.

Lori in his column says:

The archdiocese first learned of the abuse in 1988, when one of Merzbacher’s victims reported it to the archdiocese.

This does not jibe with Homburg’s account, although perhaps Lori give “The archdiocese” a special meaning that excludes employees of the archdiocese. Homberg had no reason to lie; if any archdiocesan employees were involved in a cover-up, they had every reason to lie.

Lori adds something new to the story:

In 2002, the year the scope of the church’s sexual abuse crisis came into view with Boston serving as the “epicenter,” the archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, a group of nine lay people of different faiths and backgrounds, none employed by the archdiocese, charged with reviewing the archdiocese’s handling of child abuse cases, reviewed the Merzbacher case. It did so because it was concerned that Sister Eileen Weisman, S.S.N.D., who had been principal at Catholic Community School during the years John Merzbacher abused students, was in 2002 the principal of the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. The board reviewed the court documents and unanimously recommended to Cardinal Keeler that Sister Eileen not remain in her position and not be employed in any position within the archdiocese that involves overseeing the safety of children. Cardinal Keeler agreed with the recommendation and contacted Sister Eileen’s superior. Sister Eileen would announce her retirement shortly thereafter and has not worked or volunteered in the archdiocese since.

This is interesting. Parents in the parish and the school  were never told the real reason why Weisman left, according to Cathedral parents I have spoken to; they were told that Weisman was going to an important position in Rome. She is still there, beyond the reach of the courts of the United States.

Toward the end of Sister Eileen’s tenure as the Cathedral school, Rev. Thomas Rydzewski became an assistant at the Cathedral and spent a great deal of time with the children of the lower grades of the school. He was a child pornographer; he was arrested in December 2001 and was convicted, he was supposed to be imprisoned, but my sources have seen him enjoying the hospitality of St. Luke’s Institute in Suitland, Maryland.

Tags: clergy sex abuse scandal

17 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David Clohessy // Oct 19, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Shame on Lori for whitewashing this horrendous case while pretending to be “open.” Let’s hope every single person who saw, suspected or suffered this church employee’s crimes will come forward, get help, call police, expose wrongdoers, protect others and start healing.

    David Clohessy, SNAP Director
    snapclohessy@aol.com

  • 2 Becky Ianni // Oct 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Bishop Lori’s comments can only serve to re-victimize those who have already been hurt by this monster. Instead of minimizing the crimes of Merzbacher and others who participated or covered up these crimes he should be doing everything in his power to reach out to all victims of child abuse. These courageous victims by speaking out have made the world safer for children.
    Thank you,
    Becky Ianni
    Childhood sex abuse survivor
    snapvirginia@cox.net

  • 3 Sister Maureen // Oct 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    It made me sick to my stomach to read Lori’s column. It’s just another attempt by another bishop to rewrite history.

    What possessed him to do such a thing?

    He should be ashamed of himself for exploiting those who were sexually exploited as children.

    I know I am ashamed of him; he’s an embarrassment. He should be an embarrassment to everyone in the Baltimore Archdiocese!

    Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
    Advocate for Victim/Survivors and Legislative Reform
    maturlishmdsnd@yahoo.com

  • 4 Tony de New York // Oct 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Sickening!!!

  • 5 Carolyn Disco // Oct 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Expecting truthful communication from Lori is foolishness personified.

    Thank you Leon Podles for straightening the record here. Podles’ book, Sacrilege, is well worth having as back-up for countless cases. Outstanding research.

    I consider Lori a disgrace to his office; in my view, an ambitious opportunist who will play any issue to his personal advantage.

    See part of his record in Bridgeport at comment dated 03/24/2012 - 12:24 am on this thread: http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=18149

  • 6 admin // Oct 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Lori seems to be telling the truth about Sister Eileen’s departure – and it is the first time the truth has been told. I wonder if he knows this is the first time anyone in the Archdiocese has revealed what happened with Sister Eileen – he may have assumed that the reason for her departure was announced in 2003.

    Lori is asking that Merzbacher not be released from prison. He may be doing this out of consideration for the victims. However, it would be extremely inconvenient if Merzbacher were released, because there would be enormous pressure for a new trial, if another victim comes forward. Not only would the whole mess be revived in the press, Sister Eileen would have to come back and testify under oath, or various people would have to explain why she was not being recalled from Rome to testify. Altogether a situation Lori would like to avoid.

  • 7 Amos // Oct 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Oh what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practice to deceive.
    Sir Walter Scott

  • 8 Gabrielle Azzaro // Oct 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Wasn’t Lori in Connecticut at the time?? Doesn’t matter, he lied there, too.

  • 9 Kurt Gladsky // Oct 20, 2012 at 8:01 am

    What I found most astounding is that you were actually expecting Lori to tell the truth! Come on now…

  • 10 Elizabeth Ann Murphy // Oct 20, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Shame on Lori for lying about the facts of this case. I am the victim whose case was brought to trial. I contacted Eileen Weisman first in 1979 and again in 1988. I went to the diocese in 1988. I begged Cardinal Keeler for a meeting but was not granted that meeting until 2002, after I contacted the head of the lay board myself. I gave the head of the lay board all of my documents from the case(which he had not seen until then).It was not until he became involved that a meeting was granted with Keeler. In that meeting Keeler told me that “he would have WW3 if he removed Eileen Weisman,SSND from her position.” Shortly afterwards I was contacted by the head of the board who told me that Eileen would be forced to resign. The Cathedral School then named a children’s playground in her honor. It was another Merzbacher victim who asked Cardinal O’Brien to remove that sign in 2010. The diocese never contacted the police and quite frankly interfered with their investigation by hiring their own investigators. It is shameful that they still cannot tell the truth in its entirety all of these years later. This does not give me comfort in the fact that they are still responsible for the care of children. I have a signed affidavit that a teach in 1974 told the principal about the abuse. Many children were brutally raped, sodomized, and tortured because of the diocese gross neglect.

  • 11 Charles Meyers // Oct 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Dr. Podles,

    Thank you for your efforts to negate the “spin” attempts by the Archdiocese on the Merzbacher case. Archbishop Lori was not present and has no first hand knowledge about the things that happened at the CCMS in the 1970’s. For that reason alone, his disgraceful and untrue statement that “the archdiocese first learned about the abuse in 1988″ should be seen for what it is: a self-serving attempt to downplay the direct involvement and cover up by the Archdiocese (priests and nuns included) in the horrific abuse perpetrated by Merzbacher for seven years in an eight room schoolhouse. “

  • 12 Lynne Newington // Oct 20, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Eileen wouldn’t be the first religious woman with a gun held at her head.
    Then there are those quite happy to be in liasons, with a push, under the guise of “Spiritual direction” believe me.

  • 13 TheAltonRoute // Oct 23, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    The LCWR is just as much a criminal group as the priests are. The only difference between the nuns and the priests is that more info on the latter has come out. The nuns seem more clerical than the priests. What a rotten bunch they are. I remember having read about a Dominican sister who’s an escort to an abortion clinic in Chicago. Numerous female religious orders should be suppressed. The same with the Jesuits. They’re a disease destroying the Church from within.

  • 14 jennifer // Nov 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I am absolutely disgusted by what I have read about Sister E since the Nov 2012 article. I’m also furious with the Cathedral. We are parishioners and our precious daughter attended the school at the time of Sister E’s removal. I had no idea about any of her history. We were all lied to about her removal and told that she was being called to Rome to become the pr director of her order in

  • 15 jennifer // Nov 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    It is inexcusable to have lied to parents. And I am terrified to learn of this convicted offender who was permitted to work with my child. If these things are true Sister E should be criminally charged and prosecuted. SHE BELONGS IN JAIL.

  • 16 Jennifer // Dec 7, 2012 at 5:34 am

    As a parent of a child at the time of Sister E’s removal-my recollection of the playground dedication is that it was done by the parents assoc who collected donations from parents. I thought it might give the victims some comfort to know that it was not organized by the administration. The administration completely lied to all of us all-which explains why no one said anything to the parents assoc. To stop the dedication they would have had to reveal their lie. I thought this info might help the survivors pain in this small area-please know that we parents did not knowingly dedicate a playground to someone who we knew was aiding in the abuse of children.

  • 17 Eileen // May 5, 2013 at 8:05 am

    I have known e.w. for over 50 years my wish is that all this would come to justice by a new trail. It does seem to be many unanswered question n since the ssnd leaders exciled e.w. to Rome there seems to be something being hidden. If there is a god she will be judged in time

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