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Church official: Archdiocese acted responsibly in Merzbacher case

I write in response to last Sunday's article, "Catholic officials knew of teacher's abuse, court files indicate" (Nov. 24) and the subsequent editorial regarding the horrific abuse committed by John Merzbacher in the 1970s. Contrary to the article's implication that the former archbishop or others in the central offices of the Archdiocese of Baltimore delayed the reporting of the abuse, 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 Mr. Merzbacher), and we also reported the matter to civil authorities.

•The article criticized the archdiocese for not reporting the matter until 1993, but it failed to state that it was in fact reported to civil authorities in 1988. Like most institutions in 1988 (and indeed like many or most states even today), we encouraged adult victims to report allegations to civil authorities, but we respected their wishes regarding whether they wanted to do so.

•Only in 1993 did the Maryland Attorney General clarify that all suspected child abuse should be reported even when the child was now an adult and even when the alleged perpetrator was deceased. In its official 1993 opinion, the attorney general noted that "We acknowledge that [the reporting law] could reasonably be construed to apply only if the alleged victim were still a child."

•Since 1993, when the law was interpreted by the attorney general in this way, we have reported all allegations of child abuse we receive regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred and regardless of the wishes of the child abuse victim.

It should be further noted that The Sun's story broke no new ground; the paper and other media outlets have reported extensively the allegations against Sister Eileen Weisman, including the public meeting held in 1994 for the Cathedral school community to discuss allegations raised during the legal proceedings.

We agree with The Sun's editorial ("Uncovering the abusers," Nov. 28) that laws providing further protection of children from abusers are a good thing, including laws that punish those who protect abusers and fail to report their crimes. 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 General Assembly 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 ensure that any abuse is immediately reported and dealt with.

A variety of news stories show that 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.

Sean Caine, Baltimore

The writer is vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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