The Baltimore Sun recently wrote an article recounting the horrible abuse committed by John Merzbacher, a former school teacher who terrorized students in the 1970s at Catholic Community School in South Baltimore. The Sun’s story did not break new ground, but rather it re-told a tragic story that the pages of the Catholic Review and other media have communicated many times before. However, the article did imply that the former Archbishop or others in the central offices of the Archdiocese delayed the reporting of Merzbacher’s abuse. This was not the case; the Archdiocese first learned of the abuse when a victim—by then an adult–reported it to us in 1988. At our prompting, the victim reported the matter at that time to the Department of Social Services. Five years later, when the same victim came back to us, we again encouraged her to report it (which she did, leading to the eventual criminal indictment of Merzbacher) and we also reported the matter to civil authorities.
A subsequent editorial by the Sun called for the creation of laws providing further protection of children from abusers. We think that is a good thing, including laws that create criminal penalties for individuals who knowingly fail to report child abuse. The editorial cites a need for training on detection and reporting suspected child abuse, the very focus of a bill the Catholic Church helped to draft and supported during last year’s legislative session. As originally drafted, the bill, which garnered the support of educators, child advocates, and many others, would require all Maryland schools to do what Catholic schools already do and have been doing for many years: train employees how to prevent, identify and report child sexual abuse. We also require such training of all our volunteers who work with children. We continue our work with other child protection advocates and embrace initiatives such as these that will truly protect children in the future and insure that any abuse is immediately reported and dealt with.
Sexual abuse remains a problem in our society and the Church is fully supportive of efforts that protect children, require immediate reporting, promote thorough training and screening, and hold abusers accountable.