"Upon reflection, wine or alcohol — that was the allegation, that was the only allegation that was ever made against him... it didn't have anything to do with child abuse," he said. He was able to testify during the trial, despite an attorney-client privilege, because the archdiocese allowed it, he said.
In his statement, Caine recognized the bitterness some victims may feel toward the church.
"We do not want our statement to be seen in any way as minimizing the very real and ongoing pain and suffering endured by Merzbacher's survivors, nor as a justification or excuse for any behavior, but rather as an attempt to explain to the best of our ability and information what we believe occurred," he wrote.
Caine said the archdiocese has a history of working with authorities on the Merzbacher case. As an example, he said the church wrote a letter to the Baltimore state's attorney's office in 1994 summarizing details "about 27 different individuals who may have been affected by Merzbacher or have relevant information" regarding his alleged criminal behavior. He did not provide the letter.
Caine also said the archdiocese is fighting Merzbacher's effort to be released from prison.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled two years ago that Merzbacher's criminal defense attorneys failed to offer him a 10-year plea deal during his criminal prosecution in the 1990s and that he should be given the chance to accept it now — which would lead to his immediate release. The Maryland attorney general's office is appealing the ruling. Arguments in the appeal were held last month before the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond.
In his statement, Caine said church officials "are willing and eager to do everything possible to keep Merzbacher in prison because of the feared impact his release would have on his victims, as well as possibly others. Although the Archdiocese has no formal role in the criminal process, our attorneys have also been in contact with state and local prosecutors to offer assistance in connection with keeping Merzbacher in prison."
Church officials have also urged Merzbacher's continued incarceration through letters to the editor and by signing an online petition.
And they've acknowledged the abuse through legal settlements with some of the students.
"It should be noted that the Archdiocese does not make such offers because of legal liability or statutory requirement, for there are none," Caine wrote in the statement. "Such offers are pastoral on the part of the Archdiocese and totally voluntary for the victims."
Several agreements reviewed by The Sun recognize the recipients' abuse as children through a written statement and a cash payment, typically enough to cover several years' worth of counseling. And they ask the signer to give up any future rights to sue certain parties, including Merzbacher and Weisman, though Merzbacher can be held legally responsible if he files suit first.
Such blanket releases are standard in settlement agreements, though some former students, including Murphy, have expressed chagrin over the inclusion of the teacher and principal.
One of the last people to sign a settlement agreement with the church was Linda Tiburzi — whom Weisman confronted in a Catholic Community School classroom decades ago, according to court records.
"I was thinking to myself, 'Oh thank God, she heard me [screaming], now she's going to help me, now she's going to report this,'" Tiburzi said in the recent interview. "But it was just the opposite."
In 2010, Tiburzi contacted the archdiocese at Murphy's urging. Tiburzi hoped, she said, that a settlement would cover counseling fees and lessen some of the hostility she feels toward the archdiocese.
But a week before the mediation, she learned of a new insult: A children's playground at the Cathedral School had been named in honor of Weisman, the former principal. A plaque at the site read: "Whether you go home by car, bus, or walk, you represent yourself, your school, and your family and we expect you to act accordingly."
"I was outraged," Tiburzi said. She demanded that the honorific be removed, and said that the archdiocese complied within 24 hours, as part of a settlement granting her $42,000. Caine would not discuss that settlement or other individual agreements.
The plaque, Tiburzi said, "should never have been put up. ... All [the abuse] could have stopped" if Weisman had intervened.
Tiburzi — who traveled by bus with other Merzbacher victims to the Court of Appeals hearing last month — said she met recently with Archbishop Lori and urged him to "turn over" to police all of the archdiocese's earlier findings regarding Merzbacher.
It's time, Tiburzi said, for the church to "be totally transparent."