News Story of the Day

San Diego Roman Catholic diocese facing yet another lawsuit — from its insurance company

Los Angeles Times

March 4, 2023

By Greg Moran

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The lawsuit was filed in San Diego federal court by Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, the insurance provider for San Diego and other Catholic dioceses. The company wants a judge to order that it has no duty to “defend or indemnify” the diocese or any parish against claims of sexual abuse by clergy from 1958 through 1990.

It is not clear why the lawsuit gives that time frame. The lawyer for Catholic Mutual did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Knoxville priests wrote scathing letter about Bishop Stika as last resort in 2021

Knoxville News Sentinel [Knoxville TN]

March 2, 2023

By Tyler Whetstone

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  • In 2021 11 priests sent a letter to the highest reaches of the U.S. Catholic Church regarding the leadership of Bishop Richard Stika.
  • “We do not wish, in hindsight, to be accused on remaining silent, or of not having done enough in the interests of justice and charity,” they wrote.
  • Priests are known to speak mostly behind closed doors about church issues. This group, however, felt Stika was not responding to their requests and complaints. They felt they had no other recourse.

Long before the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville received an investigative visit from high-ranking church leaders, a group of priests sent a blistering letter about Bishop Richard Stika’s leadership to the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church in America, Knox News has learned.

Church Sex Scandal Widens: Hundreds More Catholic Clergy Accused Across CA

KNTV - NBC Bay Area [San Jose CA]

February 22, 2023

By Candice Nguyen, Michael Bott, Mark Villarreal, and Michael Horn

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Plaintiffs’ attorneys say 1500 new lawsuits have been filed against the Roman Catholic Church in Northern CA alone. The Investigative Unit has independently reviewed nearly 700 of them.

An NBC Bay Area analysis of nearly 700 lawsuits filed against Catholic institutions across Northern California over the past three years suggests the church’s child sexual abuse scandal in the region is significantly worse than the public previously knew.

More than 200 of the clergy and lay employees of the Catholic Church named in the wave of lawsuits have never been publicly accused of being sexually abusive towards children and teenagers until now, NBC Bay Area’s investigation found. Some of the newly accused continue to work as priests.

Other alleged perpetrators named in the civil filings have faced previous accusations but now face new claims, some of them dozens.

Judge rules against Portland diocese, allows childhood abuse lawsuits to move forward

Press Herald

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A Maine judge gave the diocese 21 days to appeal his decision to uphold a law that allows Mainers with previously expired claims of child sexual abuse to sue their alleged abusers.


A judge has found that a Maine law removing the statute of limitations for civil claims of childhood sexual abuse claims is constitutional.

The 2021 law has prompted more than a dozen people to sue the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, with claims stretching as far back as the 1950s. The diocese argued the law is unconstitutional because it creates new liability and exposes the church to “tens of millions of dollars” in potential claims.

Cumberland County Superior Justice Thomas McKeon’s ruling Tuesday means the cases could proceed to trial, but the diocese has 21 days to file an appeal with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In the meantime, the pre-trial discovery process is still paused.

An attorney and a spokesperson for the diocese did not respond to emails Tuesday afternoon asking about their plans to appeal, but the church has previously said it plans to take the issue to the state’s highest court.

“The court agrees that these questions are important, given the number of related cases already docketed,” McKeon wrote, with “a large number of new cases anticipated.”

In midst of sex assault suit, Knoxville diocese seeks to shield papers

February 6, 2023–The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville is asking a judge to grant
greater secrecy as the church continues to defend itself in an explosive sexual abuse
lawsuit. The effort is in large part due to the reporting of Knox News. The Catholic
Diocese of Knoxville has asked a judge to allow it to keep secret internal documents as
it defends itself in an explosive sexual abuse lawsuit.
The diocese, citing ongoing coverage by Knox News, requested the protection of
materials related to the church’s sexual abuse review board and from “private
meetings of priests of the Diocese.” The diocese also refiled a request to protect
investigative documents related to complaints filed against Bishop Richard Stika.
The lawsuit was filed by a former church employee who says he was raped by a church
seminarian. The man says the diocese, led by Stika, interfered with the investigation
and worked to discredit him. Knox News is not naming the man because he says he
was the victim of a sexual assault.
The diocese argues it needs protection specifically because of the “continued publicity
that this litigation has garnered over the past year – most recently exhibited by the
multitude of articles published by the Knoxville News Sentinel over the past month.”

Ex-adviser to Monaco’s royal family sentenced to 3 years in Philly child porn case

EASTON — A Roman Catholic priest and former confidant of the royal family of Monaco was sentenced Monday to more than three years in prison for accessing a trove of pornographic images of children while working in the royal palace.

Second Canadian woman accuses Vatican Cardinal Marc Ouellet of misconduct

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Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the head of the Vatican's Dicastery for Bishops, has been accused of sexual misconduct by a second woman in the Quebec Archdiocese, a French newsmagazine reported on Jan. 18.

Golias Hebdo, a Catholic weekly based in Lyon, France, published a four-page investigation on the matter, including details of letters between the alleged victim, Quebec Cardinal Gérald Lacroix and Pope Francis.

According to the letters, Lacroix first wrote to Francis in September 2020 to alert the pontiff about the claim against Ouellet. Lacroix then later wrote to the claimant, named by the magazine as "Marie," in June 2021 to inform her of the outcome of an investigation into the matter ordered by Francis.

"The allegations of sexual misconduct that you brought to my attention a few months ago, directed at His Eminence Cardinal Marc Ouellet, have been directly transmitted by me to Pope Francis, the cardinal's immediate superior," wrote Lacroix to the woman.

Lacroix then indicated that Ouellet had been the subject of a preliminary investigation under the norms of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the pope's 2019 law that established a system for evaluating claims of abuse or misconduct by Catholic bishops.

Francis, Lacroix said, had evaluated the claims and found "no reason" to continue with a fuller Vos Estis investigation.

The Quebec Archdiocese confirmed the authenticity of the letters to the Quebec-based news agency Présence on Jan. 19. Spokesperson Valérie Roberge-Dion said Lacroix alerted Francis of the allegation as soon as Lacroix became aware of it.

Protester calls for Portland diocese to stop contesting sexual abuse lawsuits

by Ted Homer, WGME

Wednesday, January 18th 2023

PORTLAND (WGME) -- A non-profit group is protesting the Catholic diocese in Portland, claiming it’s “retraumatizing” sexual abuse victims.

A member representing the group protested outside the diocese offices Wednesday, calling on Bishop Robert Deely to stop contesting new lawsuits filed by people claiming sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.

The lawsuits follow a change to Maine law that lifted the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims.

The diocese is accused of covering up claims of sexual abuse for decades.

Liz and Linda’s wait for justice: A 50-year fight against a child rapist and the nun they say enabled him

The Baltimore Banner [Baltimore MD]

January 7, 2023

By Julie Scharper


Liz and Linda. Linda and Liz.

Liz was from “Up the Hill,” Federal Hill. Confident and sporty, with thick blond hair and ice-blue eyes, she dominated the basketball court. Her father was a police officer; the family sacrificed to send their nine children to Catholic school.

Linda was from “Down the Point,” Locust Point. She inherited her olive skin and dark brown curls from her mother, who left when Linda was 3 months old. Linda’s father, too, was a police officer. He brought baby Linda to his mother to raise. Linda was softer, shy, a rule follower.

The girls met in John Merzbacher’s class at the Catholic Community School of Baltimore in 1972. You can call me “Merz,” he said. Merz was different. He smoked a pipe in the classroom. He said bad words. He had a stoplight, a real stoplight that flashed green and yellow and red during class. He carried a gun. He played records, loudly. He asked these 11- and 12-year-olds to write an essay about who they thought they were.

Who they became was shaped by that classroom. What happened there, what Mr. Merzbacher did to them, has spilled like dark ink into the next half-century of their lives.

It has been almost 30 years since Liz Murphy, Linda Malat Tiburzi and other former students worked to send Merzbacher, one of the state’s most notorious child rapists, to prison, where he is serving four consecutive life sentences.

And still they wait for justice. Liz and Linda want to see Sister Eileen Weisman, the nun who was the principal of the school at the time, who they say witnessed some of the abuse, held accountable. Weisman knew what was happening, the women say, in accounts echoed by sworn depositions from their classmates. She saw Linda lying on the floor, bare-chested, with Merzbacher on top of her. She saw Merzbacher beating a male student. She saw a girl sitting on Merzbacher’s lap with her underwear around her ankles.She even fired another teacher who told her Merzbacher was molesting students. Why didn’t she put a stop to the abuse?

Liz and Linda hope that a 456-page investigation by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General into sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will provide that accountability. In court filings, investigators said the report details the archdiocese’s “deliberate failure to protect the children in its charge,” through the “minimizing of sexual abuse” and “efforts to keep all this information from its parishioners and the public.” The investigation could be the first public accounting of what investigators describe as a culture of “complicit silence” within the archdiocese. Liz and Linda hope that it will expose Weisman’s role in covering up for their abuser.

Weisman, 80, resides at the School Sisters of Notre Dame motherhouse in North Baltimore. She declined through a spokeswoman to speak with a reporter. A spokeswoman for the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the religious order to which she belongs, said the nuns pray daily for the Merzbacher’s survivors. “We’re very sorry for these women and the pain that they’ve gone through,” said spokeswoman Caelie Haines. The order has created policies to prevent future abuse, she said.

The archdiocese has said it does not oppose the release of the full report, which prosecutors say details a “pervasive” culture of sexual abuse in Baltimore’s Catholic churches and schools, involving 158 priests and more than 600 children over 80 years. However, the archdiocese is also paying the legal fees of certain people named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse. The identities of the people have not been revealed, but the archdiocese said it has a responsibility to help them advocate for themselves. Weisman is not represented by the archdiocese’s lawyers, Haines said.

Haines said the School Sisters of Notre Dame do not know what is contained in the report but that they support its full release. “We’re waiting like everyone else to see,” she said.Sign Up for AlertsGet notified of need-to-know
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As Liz and Linda wait for the release of the report, which has been slowed by legal wrangling, they call to check in on each other, just as they did during the trial in 1995, and the time Merzbacher tried to get released on a legal technicality in 2012.

“Liz and I have been to hell and back so many times,” said Linda, 61. “Each time we step back out of the flames, we make sure we have a bucket of water in our hands waiting for each other. I will forever have her back and she will forever have my back.”

When it happened

The first time it happened, the children were having lunch in the park. Sporty Liz was broad jumping, trying to see just how far she could fly through the air. Merzbacher asked her to go back to the school with him.

Elizabeth Ann Murphy — named for Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint, who lived for a time in West Baltimore — was very Catholic, very naive and quick to follow orders. She was 11.

Back in the classroom, Merzbacher opened a fake book to reveal a bottle of sherry hidden inside. He handed it to Liz and ordered her to drink. Then he raped her at his desk. After that, for the rest of sixth grade and all of seventh and eighth, the rapes were too numerous to count. (This account, and those that follow, are drawn from interviews and court records.)

In the morning, Merzbacher would say, “Liz, go get my coffee.” She would go to the storeroom next to the classroom. Then she would feel his hands on her. Sometimes he would order one or more boys to rape her too. Liz’s mind would be floating on the storeroom ceiling, staring down at her body.

Sometimes Merzbacher would rape her with his pipe. Back in the classroom, he would puff on the pipe and insinuate to the children what he had done. “I still can’t stand the smell of apple tobacco,” said Liz.

For Linda, it started more slowly. He told her to call him Mr. John. He told her to call him Dad.

He called her at 8 and 9 in the evening. “Who’s that on the phone, Linda?” her grandmother would ask. Linda made up stories. She didn’t want to get in trouble.

After dark, Linda was allowed to sit on the front steps of their house, but go no farther. One evening, when she was 12,Merzbacher drove up in his yellow Volkswagen Beetle with red and black trim. “Get in,” he said.

“I can’t,” she said, walking up to the window. Merzbacher yanked her inside and started to drive. A teenage boy, Brian, who lived with Merzbacher, was sitting in the back and soon they picked up a second boy. Merzbacher sent Linda to the back seat and ordered her to give Brian a blow job.

Brian had to explain what that meant. “I think he was afraid both of us would be hurt very badly if I did not do it,” she said.

Then Merzbacher reached into the glove compartment and took out a gun. He drove to Sherrie’s Show Bar, an East Baltimore strip club owned by his mother and stepfather, shooting at stop signs and traffic lights along the way. At the bar, he hurried inside and came out with a bottle of liquor, which he forced them to drink.

After a while, Merzbacher dropped Linda back off at her house and she tottered inside, drunk and terrified. Her grandmother was sitting in her rocking chair, rosary beads in hand.

That was the start of Linda’s hell. Merzbacher raped her in the storage room and ordered a boy to do it as well. When she screamed, he stabbed a banjo next to her head and said her face would be next.

When it was not happening to them, Liz and Linda would witness the terror of their classmates. Court records preserve the sworn depositions from some of the scores of women and men who accused Merzbacher of raping and physically attacking them as children. Prosecutors who brought charges against Merzbacher in the 1990s said at least 40 former students alleged they had been raped or otherwise abused by him.

Merzbacher allegedly raped both boys and girls, often while holding a gun to their heads, both at the school and at the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department in Essex.

Then there was the gun. He fired it across the classroom and held it to students’ heads, according to court records. “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you, I’ll kill your mother, I’ll kill your father, I’ll kill your whole family,” he would say.

The children never spoke about the dark world they were immersed in, even among themselves.

“None of us knew where to put it. We didn’t have words for it,” recalls Liz, 61. “We never talked about this outside of school except to hide if we saw a yellow Volkswagen in the neighborhood. It’s really strange to experience all this torture every day for three years and not talk about it.”

The adults in their lives, for the most part, either didn’t notice Merzbacher or ignored him. Liz and Linda said that his words and actions around Weisman were often sexually charged. He would grab the principal’s buttocks or breasts and make comments about her breasts, they said, allegations that are echoed in court depositions from their former classmates.

One former student said in his deposition that he once witnessed Merzbacher and Weisman having sex. He also said that Weisman on one occasion walked in on Merzbacher beating him. The teacher punched, kicked and choked the boy while telling the nun, “See, I’m not hurting him”; Weisman responded, “Oh, John, stop it,” according to the deposition.

Another former Catholic Community student testified in a deposition that she used to study in an empty classroom across from Merzbacher’s room and would often see him physically and sexually abusing children. The woman testified that she once saw a girl sitting on Merzbacher’s lap with her underpants around her ankles; when she told Weisman, the principal responded that “the girl was having a problem with the elastic in her underwear,” according to the deposition. After the girl spoke to Weisman, Merzbacher took her aside and threatened to kill her, and students who were close to Merzbacher beat the girl on a stairway, according to the deposition.

Once Linda was in Merzbacher’s classroom after school, according to a sworn deposition. The teacher was lying on top of her, biting her breast and causing her extreme pain. The girl screamed for help. Then she heard a key in the lock of the classroom door; Weisman, the school principal, walked in to see Merzbacher lying on top of the girl, the girl’s breasts exposed.

“John, oh John,” said the nun, as she headed away, Linda recalls. “I told you never to lock the classroom door.”

New judge assigned to archdiocese sexual abuse case

The Baltimore Banner


Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. will oversee case to release grand jury investigation into abuse

Published on: January 03, 2023 1:44 PM EST|Updated on: January 03, 2023 4:18 PM EST

The entrance to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore
Catholic Center located in Baltimore, Md., on December 2, 2022.
The debate over the release of a massive investigation into sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will be decided by a new judge, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)
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The debate over the release of a massive investigation into sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore will be decided by a new judge, a judiciary spokesman said Tuesday.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. will oversee proceedings regarding the release of an investigation from the Maryland Office of the Attorney Generaldetailing the “sexual abuse” and “physical torture” of more than 600 children and teens at the hands of 158 Catholic priests.

The 456-page report is the product of a four-year investigation by the attorney general’s office with the assistance of a Baltimore grand jury. Under state law, grand jury materials are confidential without a court order.

Taylor, 56, has served on the bench since 2018. Previously, he served as an assistant attorney general and was senior counsel for forensic litigation, according to his official biography.

Some survivors of sexual abuse in the archdiocese had raised concerns about the previous judge assigned to the case, Anthony Vittoria. His biography lists him as a parishioner of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore. A now-shuttered school associated with that church — the Catholic Community Middle School — was the scene of some of the most notorious abuse cases associated with the archdiocese. John Merzbacher, a lay teacher who worked there in the 1970s, is serving four life sentences for the repeated rape of a student. More than a dozen other students had also accused Merzbacher of raping and sexually assaulting them, but their cases never went to trial.

The change in judge was “part of the normal management of the court,” judiciary spokesman Bradley Tanner said in an email. “This was expected many months prior to the filing of the case,” Tanner said.

The legal battle around the investigation began in mid-November when the attorney general’s office first asked the court for permission to release the report. In court filings, the attorney general’s office described a history of “pervasive” sexual abuse within Baltimore’s Catholic churches and schools, as well as a coverup and “complicit silence” by church officials.

The archdiocese said it would not object to the release of the report and pointed to numerous steps it had taken to correct its culture and support survivors of abuse. However, the archdiocese also acknowledged that it is paying for the legal fees of 13 people who are named in the report but not accused of sexual abuse and do not want their names released.

These people, whose identities have not been disclosed, are represented by prominent attorneys Gregg Bernstein and William Murphy.

In December, Vittoria sealed the proceedings concerning the release of the names, which kept the public — including survivors of abuse — from learning what was happening in the case.

Attorneys representing two groups of victims have filed motions to unseal the case and expedite the release of the report. Vittoria denied those appeals late last month.

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