Did Some Nuns, Teachers Know Of Child Sex Abuse In Baltimore Catholic Schools?

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — For some time now, WJZ has been investigating a dirty secret: child sex abuse at the hands of priests, police and a teacher back in the 1960s and 1970s. Many asked how it was possible that no one noticed.

Multiple sources have told WJZ’s Denise Koch that many people, including some nuns in positions of authority, did know about the abuse but instead of reporting it, they looked the other way.

It’s a dark chapter for Baltimore’s Catholic schools. Father Joseph Maskell, a counselor at Archbishop Keough High School, is accused of molesting dozens of students.

“I had a gun held to my head on several occasions. I was threatened with ‘I’ll kill your father, I’ll kill your grandparents, I’ll kill your dog, I’ll kill you,” Linda Tiburzi said.

She tells WJZ in the 1970s, John Merzbacher sexually abused her while she was a student at Catholic Community Middle School. Tiburzi was not alone. The Catholic school teacher, armed with a gun, blatantly assaulted other girls and boys.

It would take more than 20 years for him to be sent to prison where he’s now serving four life terms for child rape.

[Reporter: You believe that people knew?]

“I know people knew. I witnessed it with my own eyes. I was in eight grade, Merzbacher kept me after school…he locked the door, he tripped me to the floor, he straddled me, he unbuttoned my shirt blouse,” Tiburzi explains. “I was petrified, and then I heard the clicking of the door being unlocked. In walked Sister Eileen Weisman, and stood over the both of us. Her comment to him was, ‘Oh, John, I told you never to lock the door.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘You are never to stay after school again.'”

[Reporter: And she was a nun?]

“Well, I thought this woman was going to save me when she came in the door and she did absolutely nothing,” she said.

Sister Weisman was the principal of the school.

“Every teacher in that school knew what was going on at that school, as well as Sister Eileen. There was no doubt,” said Gary Homberg.

WJZ tracked down Homberg, a former teacher at the school. This is the first time he has ever spoken to the media.

“I went to Sister Eileen and sat down and told her what I had seen, what I had heard, what I had witnessed with my own two eyes,” he explains. “It was as gross and vile, as ugly as anything you can imagine.”

Homberg says he was given an ultimatum: shut up or leave. He left.

WJZ also obtained court records that state Sister Weisman repeatedly witnessed abuse, but did nothing to stop it. Decades later, following Merzbacher’s conviction, the Archdiocese publicly stated that Sister Weisman should never again hold a position overseeing the safety of children.

WJZ asked to speak with her, but instead received this statement, in part, from Sister Charmaine Krohe, SSND, provincial leader of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Atlantic-Midwest Province:

“We have found no evidence to suggest that our religious community or any of our Sisters had knowledge of Mr. Merzbacher’s conduct at the time the abuse occurred.”

“They would have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be aware what was going on. There is no doubt in my mind. They knew, and they looked the other way,” Homberg said.

Our investigation reveals Sister Weisman was not the only nun in a position of authority who was reportedly told about the sex abuse taking place in Catholic schools. Donna Von Den Bosch, a student at Archbishop Keough, told a high-ranking nun that a priest was sexually abusing her.

“I stopped in her office and said, ‘He’s evil, please don’t make me go.’ And she just smiled and said “Go down there.’ And so that’s like another day of agony I had to face,” Von Den Bosch said.

“All our lives were tragically shattered, shaken. Our souls were ripped away from us, but we turned into the warriors that we are today because what went on is certainly not right,” Tiburzi said.

WJZ has learned that Sister Weisman — who was assigned to Rome for several years during the Merzbacher trial — is now back in Baltimore living in a convent on a school campus.

The following is the full statement from Sister Krohe:

The entire School Sisters of Notre Dame community is deeply saddened by the reprehensible abuse that occurred at the hands of John Merzbacher.

We have found no evidence to suggest that our religious community or any of our Sisters had knowledge of Mr. Merzbacher’s conduct at the time the abuse occurred.

One of the central missions of our congregation is primarily education.  The prevention of child abuse, as well as pastoral outreach to those affected, are cornerstones of all of our actions and policies. .

The School Sisters of Notre Dame work continuously, in all of our ministries, to protect children in every aspect of their lives.  We continue to pray daily for the healing and comfort of all survivors of childhood abuse and their families.

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