A priest with the Archdiocese of Baltimore testified yesterday that a former student of John J. Merzbacher asked for money to buy a used car in 1990 -- two years after she approached the archdiocese with allegations that Mr. Merzbacher had molested her in the 1970s.
The Rev. George Moeller, director of pastoral personnel, said the woman suggested that since she had been offered $1,000 for counseling after revealing the alleged abuse in 1988, she could use it for the car so she could drive to St. Louis to join an order of nuns.
Father Moeller's testimony, on the third day of Mr. Merzbacher's first criminal trial on charges of a number of sex offenses against the now 34-year-old woman, was at odds with the woman's statement Tuesday that she did not make that call to ask for money.
After Father Moeller passed by them outside the courtroom, family members and friends of the woman murmured "liar."
The 34-year-old woman is one of 14 men and women named in a series of criminal indictments as victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Mr. Merzbacher. Most were students at Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore between 1972 and 1979.
The woman testified last week that he raped her almost daily during her three years at the school.
Father Moeller testified that he and a representative of the personnel department met with the woman in 1988. He said the meeting involved allegations of "sexual abuse by touching, by language" by Mr. Merzbacher, who by then had left his teaching job.
Father Moeller said he told the woman to report her allegations to police and to the Department of Social Services. He said he offered counseling that the archdiocese would provide or pay for.
When the woman asked for money two years later, Father Moeller said, "I told her this wasn't normally done . . . that it could be misinterpreted as payoff money or whatever."
The woman testified Tuesday that she refused money for counseling in 1988. She said she called Father Moeller in 1990 to ask if he knew of groups that supported women pursuing religious vocations.3
The woman, who testified that she feared Mr. Merzbacher would kill her if she told what he had done, did not tell police about the abuse until 1993, when her lawyer contacted the state's attorney's office.
Also yesterday, a circuit judge who once was a lawyer for the archdiocese testified that he wrote a letter allowing Mr. Merzbacher to return to work after an investigation for misconduct in 1974.
Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. testified that he recalled that the investigation, which caused Mr. Merzbacher to take a leave from the school, involved either bringing a gun or alcohol onto school grounds. The woman has testified that Mr. Merzbacher did both.
The judge said he did not conduct the inquiry, but assumed school officials asked him to write the letter because they found no basis for action against Mr. Merzbacher.
He said he did not remember any allegations that Mr. Merzbacher had molested students at the time.