"We knew the events [Weisman was allegedly involved in] while the trial was going on, but decided that was not the time to take disciplinary action" against her, Cromwell said in a recent interview. "And then after that, it just slipped between the cracks."

During the mid-1990s, church lawyers were battling more than a dozen plaintiffs who had filed the potentially costly civil suits. Filings claimed the archdiocese and its agents "knew or should have known of Defendant Merzbacher's predilections and... improper actions" while they were going on in the '70s and that officials could have prevented the abuse had they "taken appropriate steps to terminate, suspend, reprimand, [or] discipline" Merzbacher or those supervising him.

The cases were never litigated, however. They were dismissed by a state appeals court, which ruled the statute of limitations for such claims — typically three years after the event occurs or the child victims reach adulthood — had passed.

"Society totally failed to protect these schoolchildren from repeated rapes, sexual abuse, other physical and mental abuse, and from being terrorized at gunpoint by Merzbacher," one appeals court judge wrote in a 1997 opinion lamenting the dismissals.

Merzbacher refused to answer any of the claims against him in those cases, repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a 1995 deposition. A public defender who represented him during the criminal trial did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article. And an attorney currently representing Merzbacher in the federal appeals case has declined to discuss allegations against his client.

Weisman was never deposed in the civil cases, or called to the stand as a witness during the criminal trial. She has not been accused of a crime or named as a defendant in the civil suits.

It's unclear what Weisman does for the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Cornell did not respond to questions about her employment. Caine did not address her current work in his statement.

Did archdiocese know?

Some of Merzbacher's former students question whether the archdiocese knew more about the teacher's misconduct.

In court records, 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.

Weisman consulted with the archdiocese about Homberg's allegations "that Merzbacher was carrying a gun in school and that he may have been act — interacting inappropriately with children," according to a police detective's grand jury testimony. He did not say whether Weisman outlined any sexual abuse claims.

Caine said she did not. "In reviewing the case files it is clear that Sr. Eileen consistently denied any knowledge of sexual abuse by Merzbacher," Caine wrote in his statement. "Sr. Eileen recalls consulting with the Archdiocese only about the gun issue."

Tillman, now a retired priest in residence at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson, said in a brief interview that he did not know about the abuse until the 1990s.

"At no time [before then] did anybody in South Baltimore — teacher, parent, student — give me information about atrocities that John Merzbacher committed," he said. He added that he was "a bit defensive" about the idea that he withheld information.

In 1974, when Homberg claimed in a deposition to have met with them, Tillman and Derwart were priests at parishes affiliated with the Catholic Community Middle School — Tillman at Holy Cross and Derwart at Our Lady of Good Counsel.

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.

Homberg did not return messages seeking comment.

"If the diocesan attorney was involved in 1974, then the diocese was aware" of the allegations, Murphy wrote recently in a private Internet post she also shared with The Sun. She has spent years urging the archdiocese to acknowledge that it played a role in the abuse.

During Merzbacher's criminal trial, McCurdy — who was a Baltimore Circuit Court judge at the time — testified that he didn't conduct the inquiry and assumed Merzbacher had been cleared of wrongdoing when he was asked to write the letter. He didn't remember any allegations of sexual abuse, and said he thought claims against the teacher involved either bringing a gun or alcohol onto campus.

Reached by telephone recently, McCurdy, who retired from the Circuit Court in 2006, said he wasn't even sure about the claims of a gun.