“10 things about Fr Maskell, Irish-American priest at centre of Netflix murder documentary The Keepers” & related articles

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Irish priest accused of sexual abuse in controversial Netflix documentary The Keepers under investigation in Ireland

The Irish Post


Fr Joseph Maskell was at the centre of abuse allegations in the early 1990s (Image: Netflix/YouTube)

NETFLIX’S latest documentary series, The Keepers, examines the case of Sister Catherine ‘Cathy’ Cesnik, a nun who was murdered after disappearing in Baltimore on November 7, 1969.

Her body was found on January 3, 1970 having suffered a skull fracture from a blow to the head.

The show examines whether there is a link between her murder and allegations of abuse at a school she taught, Archbishop Keough High School.

Here, we look at Fr Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Keough who was the subject of an unsuccessful 1994 lawsuit accusing him of rape, during which one of the plaintiffs alleged he showed her Sr Cathy’s body as a warning not to speak to anyone else about the abuse.

Baltimore, Maryland (Image: Getty)

He came from an Irish family

Maskell’s father Joseph was born in Limerick and emigrated with his parents, Daniel and Hanna, to New York in 1898, before settling in Baltimore, an area popular with Irish immigrants.

In The Keepers, investigative journalist Tom Nugent says: “Maskell was an Irish priest right out of the traditional working-class Irish-American community.”

As a boy, Maskell would say Mass for his friends (Image: iStock)

He seemed destined to be a priest

While other kids were playing football or baseball, the young Maskell was saying Mass for his friends.

“From 15 years old he was a priest in training,” says Nugent.

The reporter adds that Maskell’s mother would dress him in Mass vestments and would separate the white wafers out of a pack of coloured candy for him to use as Communion wafers.

Abuse allegations

In 1994, former Keough students Jean Hargadon Wehner and Teresa Lancaster (then known as Jane Doe and Jane Roe) accused Fr Maskell of rape and filed an unsuccessful civil lawsuit against him, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and gynaecologist Dr Christian Richter.

In The Keepers, Wehner, Lancaster and other Keough students describe the abuse they allege Fr Maskell committed and orchestrated, with some students also implicating another Keough priest, Fr Neil Magnus – who died in 1988 before the allegations came to light – as well as police officers.

Wehner describes how the alleged abuse was dressed up as religious counselling, after she initially confided in Fr Magnus that her uncle had abused her.

Reading out a statement she gave to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, she says: “[Fr Maskell] told me I was a bad person and it made him so angry that there were people like me around that he had to do his part to stop it.

“He pulled his penis out and said God wanted me to receive the Holy Spirit and it was flowing through him.”

When preparing their case in 1993, Wehner’s team needed corroborating testimony and appealed for information from former Keough students.

They received an overwhelming response.

Wehner’s then attorney Beverly Wallace says: “We heard from more than one person that there were other people brought in who performed sexual acts and raped these girls at the behest of Maskell, or certainly with his permission and [in] his presence.

“There were police officers, there were other clergy members, there were local business owners, there were politicians that all were part of this network.”

Sister Cathy Cesnik was murdered in 1969 in Baltimore (Image: Netflix/YouTube)

Links to murdered nun

Sr Cathy worked at Keough alongside Fr Maskell until autumn 1969, when she got a job at a different school, however before leaving three pupils had confided in her about the alleged abuse.

According to the documentary, a furious Fr Maskell and Fr Magnus visited Sr Cathy’s apartment the night before she went missing, at which time one of the three pupils was visiting the nun with her boyfriend.

Sr Cathy asked the girl and her boyfriend to leave but the pupil was called to Fr Maskell’s office the next day, where he allegedly told her: “If you say anything, I’ll kill both of you and your families.”

Wehner claims that shortly after the nun’s disappearance, Fr Maskell took her to Sr Cathy’s body and told her: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

While the documentary makers don’t believe Fr Maskell killed Sr Cathy, they do speculate he was involved in her murder, fearing she was about to expose the abuse allegations at Keough.

He was well connected

As well as being chaplain of Keough, Fr Maskell also served as chaplain for the Baltimore County Police, the Maryland State Police and the Maryland Air National Guard.

Fr Maskell’s brother Tommy served 20 years with the Baltimore City Police, making lieutenant.

Retired Baltimore County Police captain James Scannell (now deceased), who was the first officer on the scene when Sr Cathy’s body was discovered, described Fr Maskell as a friend and fellow officer.

He tells The Keepers: “He used to come in ride-alongs. He used to come down and I’d let him shoot when I was working. We’d have a little target practice.”

Fr Maskell was alleged to have threatened a student with a gun (Image: iStock)

Fr Maskell was a fan of guns

Former Baltimore City Police detective Brian Schwaab said Fr Maskell would carry a handgun and told The Keepers that when he served as an altar boy, the priest produced the gun in the sacristy.

Schwaab asked why he had the weapon and Fr Maskell only looked at him.

“I didn’t get a look like that until years later interviewing violent offenders, “ says Schwaab, “talking to someone who’d murdered somebody.”

Wehner also alleges Fr Maskell used a gun to threaten her, saying that he once took the bullets out before putting the gun to her temple.

She claims he then said: “If your father ever found out you were whoring around, he would do the same but keep the bullets in.”

Mid games

Former pupils Lil Hughes Knipp and Donna Von Den Bosch both claim Fr Maskell – who was school counsellor at Keough from 1967–75 – hypnotised them, while Knipp says he would perform Rorschach tests, adding: “Every blot was some kind of sexual thing.”

Another pupil, Mary Spence, says Fr Maskell ensured the Hitchcock film Marnie, about a woman with repressed memories, was on the religion class curriculum.

She says: “It was suggestive that maybe I have things that I should talk to a counsellor about so I don’t turn out like Marnie.”

She adds: “Maskell was our school psychologist; how convenient that he picked that movie for us to go and watch.”

He literally tried to bury evidence

In 1990, while serving as pastor of Holy Cross in Baltimore, Fr Maskell had the caretaker, William Storey, dig a large hole in the cemetery where he buried boxes of records.

An anonymous police source, known as Deep Throat, claims that when the boxes were exhumed in 1994, they contained original photographs of girls with their breasts exposed and profiles of high school girls.

He claims the contents were enough to arrest Fr Maskell: “We could have done it right then and there.”

However State Attorney Sharon AH May disputes this and says there were no original photographs, saying: “To my recollection there was nothing that went right to, ‘Maskell molested these kids.’”

She adds: “Maybe we did [find pornographic material], I don’t remember that.”

Fr Maskell fled to Ireland

After leaving his role as pastor of St Augustine’s parish in Elkridge, Baltimore, Fr Maskell moved to Ireland in 1994 as the case against him was ongoing.

He practiced as a clinical psychologist in the Wexford Community Care area in 1995.

After leaving the public sector in 1995, Maskell continued to work as a private psychologist in the area until 1998.

He maintained his innocence

Fr Maskell denied the allegations up until his death in 2001.

The late Captain Scannell also insisted Maskell was innocent, saying: “I’ve got to be objective, I think like a police [officer]. If I thought it was him, he wouldn’t have been walking free. I would’ve did what I was supposed to do.”

Maskell’s remains were exhumed in February 2017 for a DNA comparison with a sample obtained from Sr Cathy’s crime scene but there was no match.

The Keepers is available on subscription streaming service Netflix . See the trailer below.


The new Netflix documentary series The Keepers speaks in unexpected ways to one of the deep uncertainties of contemporary Ireland. Video: Netflix

The Health Service Executive is investigating the activities of US priest Joseph Maskell, who fled to Ireland following sex abuse allegations in Baltimore.

Maskell escaped to Co Wexford in 1994 amid claims he had sexually abused students while serving as chaplain at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1967 to 1975.

By the time Maskell, whose father was from Limerick, arrived in Ireland, he was ordered not to perform any priestly duties.

The HSE told The Irish Times it had begun reviewing the work of Maskell and “any concerns” arising from his employment as a psychologist in a “psycho-education initiative” by the South Eastern Health Board in Wexford from April 11th, 1995 to November 7th, 1995. He lived in Ireland until 1998.

Maskell is suspected of involvement in the unsolved murder of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik (26), an English teacher at the Baltimore school who became aware of his abuse.

Cesnik disappeared in November 1969 after leaving her apartment on a shopping trip. Her beaten, badly decomposed body was found in a field in Baltimore in January 1970.

One of his victims, Jean Wehner, then a 16-year-old student at Keough, claimed that Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik’s body before it was discovered.

He allegedly told her: “You see what happens when you say bad things about people?”

Cold case

Maskell, who died in 2001, and the cold case surrounding Cesnik’s murder are the subject of The Keepers, a seven-part documentary series released by Netflix last month.

The series has prompted new abuse victims to come forward, renewed public interest and, in turn, the HSE’s review into the priest’s activities in Ireland.

A number of Irish victims have emerged, according to people with knowledge of the Maskell case in the US.

US-based witnesses have said Maskell’s abuse began during his counselling sessions.

The HSE said it had “commenced a process to review services delivered and regarding any concerns arising from the temporary, short-term employment in 1995 of a Mr AJ Maskell by the South Eastern Health Board in its Wexford Community Care.”

The former priest was engaged as a temporary clinical psychologist in “a short-term psycho-education initiative,” the HSE said.

The health service declined to say how many children or young people he treated during the seven months.

Maskell was asked for and provided references from the health board as part of the application process for his employment, the HSE said, and that confirmation was also received and recorded from An Garda Síochána stating that he had no previous convictions.

After his employment with the health board ended, he continued working as a psychologist in private practice in Wexford and nearby Castlebridge from 1995 to 1998.

The health board had no engagement with Maskell during this time, the HSE said.

Maskell had ceased his employment with the health board by the time it received correspondence from the Diocese of Ferns in June 1996 raising concerns about his work as a psychologist and his unsupervised status in light of the emerging details about the allegations against him in Baltimore.

He first came to the attention of the diocese in April 1995 when he said Mass without permission in the parish of Screen and Curracloe while covering for a sick priest.

“I wish only to offer Mass privately and carry out my spiritual activities in a like manner,” Maskell wrote to the diocese after it raised concerns.

Temporary leave

He said that he had been granted “temporary leave” and that he had no “plan or desire to engage in any public ministry while here,” according to details on file on Maskell dating from April 1995 to 1998 that were released by the diocese.

The diocese contacted the health board and the Baltimore archdiocese over its concerns about Maskell after he continued to appear in full clerical garb and presented himself as a priest in Wexford in 1996.

Concerns were raised that Maskell was counselling young people in his private practice. In 1998 Maskell gave an undertaking not to provide psychological services to anyone under the age of 18.

Further contacts with the health board, the Catholic Church in Baltimore, the Garda and other individuals with knowledge of Maskell’s activities continued until September 1998. He left Ireland that year.

Maskell moved to Wexford in 1994 after two women – Wehner and Teresa Lancaster – filed a $40 million (€36 million) civil lawsuit against him, alleging child abuse.

The two women were only identified at the time as “Jane Doe” and “Jane Roe.”

“We do have word that there are two victims coming forward in Ireland,” Ms Lancester said in a phone interview from the US.

Ms Lancaster, who now works as an attorney, said that Maskell spoke of Ireland to her “many times” when she was a student at Keogh.

“He ran to Ireland in 1995 when the Doe-Roe case was breaking,” she said. “They were supposedly going to raid his residence and confiscate records but no records were found and he was gone.”


Priest’s DNA does not match profile from cold-case murder of nun


Updated 7:09 PM ET, Wed May 17, 2017

Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik and the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell.

(CNN)A DNA sample taken from the exhumed remains of former priest A. Joseph Maskell does not match the DNA from the murder scene of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik, according to Baltimore County Police.

Police announced on Wednesday that they had received results from Bode Cellmark Forensics laboratory in Lorton, Virginia, excluding Maskell as a contributor to a DNA profile developed from evidence taken in 1970 from the scene in Maryland where the decomposed body of Cesnik was found by a father and son out hunting. The 26-year-old nun had been missing for nearly two months.

County police opened Maskell’s grave on February 28, after securing an order from the state’s attorney, according to Elise Armacost, director of public affairs for Baltimore County Police.

Baltimore County Police have compared the DNA of several other people as part of their investigation into the never-closed case, according to Armacost, but those tests did not match the DNA profile from 1970.

The DNA profile from the evidence was also placed into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, but there were no matches with any profile from the national database.

“The negative results from the Maskell DNA profile comparison mean that [the] best hope for solving the case now lies with people who are still alive and willing to come forward with conclusive information about the murder,” police said Wednesday in a news release.

Maskell was a priest accused in the 1990s of sexually assaulting young women. Cesnik was a teacher and nun who, according to an attorney, was a confidant young women who had been assaulted by the priest.

Police have also looked into whether Cesnik’s death is related to the deaths of three other young women in the Baltimore area around the same time.

1 Response to “10 things about Fr Maskell, Irish-American priest at centre of Netflix murder documentary The Keepers” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    Here are a few more articles related to Netflix documentary The Keepers.

    Father Maskill is said to have fled to Ireland on the heels of allegations that he had sexually abused students at an all girls school in Baltimore. He apparently had orders not to function as a priest (i.e., ‘say ‘ Mass and hear confessions) . He found employ for a period of three years as a psychologist. (The allegations of sex abuse from Baltimore relate to abuse which transpired during counselling sessions with the prirst)

    About a year or so after his arrival concerns were raised by the Diocese of Ferns in Ireland that Maskell was counselling young people in his private practise, and also, it seems, that at times he was functioning as priest. It seems that health officials in Ireland are currently sifting through case files handled by Father Maskell.

    Note too the last article in the series of articles above: “Priest’s DNA does not match profile from cold-case murder of nun.”

    Father Maskell’s body was exhumed specifically to obtain a DNA sample. Baltimore Country Police announced in May that the priest’s DNA doe snot match the DNA from the murder scene of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

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