The email Sister Kathleen McNany sent to female U.S. senators earlier this week urged them to vote against the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to “let our young women know how valuable they are.”
Several former students of McNany wonder where such concern was in the 1970s, when the nun taught at a small South Baltimore school where they were raped and abused for years by another teacher, John Merzbacher, who was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.
“All of a sudden, she’s concerned with teenagers and young women?” said Elizabeth Murphy, 57, a former student at the since closed Catholic Community School. “Here is a person who was a teacher at this small, two-story, eight-classroom school. It’s beyond imagination that no one had seen what he was doing.”
McNany said she did not know about the abuse at the time and only learned about it in the 1990s when she was deposed in connection to the case.
“As the years have gone on, and I have learned about it, I have been broken-hearted,” McNany, 72, said. “I did not know then what I know now.
“What breaks my heart most is I believe these former students think we closed our eyes, we didn’t care,” she said.
In 1995, Merzbacher was found guilty on eight charges of rape and abuse for years of assaulting Murphy during her middle school years. After his sentencing, prosecutors decided to drop more than 100 additional charges from 13 other alleged victims. In court documents and media interviews, the survivors have described a horrifying litany of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Merzbacher, an English teacher at the school from 1972 to 1979.
McNany, who wrote the email on behalf of her fellow Benedictine Sisters of Baltimore at the Emmanuel Monastery in Lutherville, said she taught music, religion and social studies at Catholic Community during those years, leaving in 1979 for other ministries. Her order’s website described her as a liturgist, director of communications and a spiritual director.
McNany’s letter to the senators, dated Oct. 3, is among dozens of public statements that have come from religious, legal, educational and other groups weighing in on the nomination of Kavanaugh, who has been accused by Christine Blasey Ford, a psychology professor, of sexually assaulting her at a gathering in the 1980s when they were private school students in Montgomery County. Amid protesters descending on the Capitol, the Senate is scheduled to vote Saturday on the nomination and confirm Kavanaugh by a narrow margin.
An article in The Baltimore Sun about McNany’s letter prompted much chatter among former Catholic Community School students, some of whom are angry that teachers failed to protect them back then and have remained silent during the long legal battle through to today.
“My first thoughts were, ‘Really?’” said Linda Malat Tiburzi, 57, among the former students who accused Merzbacher of rape. “Really, really? After all these years, after you remained silent for so many years, when you didn’t protect us children?”
Tiburzi said she is convinced the other teachers knew what Merzbacher was doing. She previously described one incident, in which Merzbacher had her pinned to the floor of his classroom, screaming, when the principal burst in but then left without helping her. The former principal, Sister Eileen Weisman, has denied knowing of Merzbacher’s abuse.
“During the changing of classes, teachers would stand in the hallway to make sure we were behaving. Merzbacher would be there, calling us foul names and lifting our skirts up with a yardstick or his own hands,” Tiburzi said. “He’d do it right in front of them.
“He would talk to them as crudely as he would talk to us,” she said,
Both Murphy and Tiburzi emailed McNany after reading The Sun article, but said Friday they had not received replies.
“I can’t help but wonder why you never spoke out to help the children that were sexually abused at Catholic Community middle school while you taught there,” Tiburzi said she wrote.
Tiburzi said she would simply like an acknowledgement, and an apology from McNany.
“I would like a public apology, and an answer to why she turned a blind eye,” she said.
McNany said she has not had the opportunity to “interact” with the former students in the intervening years and does not know if she will respond to the emails.
“I interact with plenty of women who have gone through being molested,” she said, “and to say to them, I didn’t know what was going on doesn’t help.”
Murphy said she agrees with McNany that Kavanaugh shouldn’t be confirmed. But, as she said in her email to McNany, she is saddened that the concern she expressed about the Supreme Court nominee wasn’t extended to Merzbacher’s victims.
“Not once have you ever publicly expressed concern for the victims of John Merzbacher,” Murphy wrote McNany in an email she shared with The Sun. “By all means protect yourselves while you cry out for justice in all other matters except when the injustice is sitting on your own front doorstep or your inbox.”
Murphy said in an interview she wonders if McNany has had “some sort of an awakening,” however delayed, and what other teachers from that time think now.
“Their voices have been silent,” she said, “and their silence is complicit.”