Father A. Joseph Maskell’s file with the Catholic Church will remain sealed, to the dismay of tens of thousands of petition signatories.
Maskell, the late priest portrayed as an alleged sex abuser and authoritarian chaplain and counselor in Netflix’s “The Keepers,” worked at Southwest Baltimore’s since-shuttered Archbishop Keough High School during the 1960s and 1970s. During that time, multiple former students said he sexually abused them and threatened them.
“The Keepers” questions whether he also helped orchestrate the mysterious murder of a well-liked nun named Catherine Cesnik in 1969. Her body was discovered in a wooded area in Baltimore County, her skull fractured. One former student (formerly known as “Jane Doe,” identified in the show as Jean Hargadon Wehner) said Maskell sexually abused her when she was a student, and spooked her from tattling by bringing her to see Cesnik’s decomposing body for herself.
Maskell denied any allegations of sexual abuse or involvement in Cesnik’s killing, and died of a stroke in 2001. As recounted in the show, the Archdiocese of Baltimore reassigned and relocated him at points during his tenure with the church, and kept additional information on him in private records that it refuses to release.
Following “The Keepers'” immense popularity achieved this year, more than 55,000 people have signed a petition calling for the church to release his records to the public. But according to an update on the petition’s page from earlier this month, that’s not going to happen.
In an email to petition organizer Kevin Turowsky, who lives in Massachusetts, Archdiocese of Baltimore spokesman Sean Caine wrote that the matter “is one we treat very seriously and is deserving of careful consideration and prayer. It is also a very complex one.”
“While some feel the release of Maskell’s personnel records would provide clarity and possibly even closure, the reality is that it would provide neither,” he asserted.
Caine maintained that releasing any files, “especially redacted ones,” would frustrate those who read them because they wouldn’t advance the case; could potentially lead suspicious members of the public to think the church was withholding information about Maskell; could cause legal problems, since accusers’ names and other confidential information would be made public; and “would also create a precedent that would likely soon be followed by requests for the release of personnel records of other priests and employees of the Church.”
Caine did write that the archdiocese isn’t refusing to share details about priests who “harmed children” while serving in their posts. He pointed to the church’s public list of all clergy credibly found to have sexually abused children, which was first published in 2002.
In response to Caine’s letter of refusal, Turowsky told The Baltimore Sun that it won’t stop him and others from pushing for the release of Maskell’s file.
For what it’s worth, Baltimore County police looked into the cold case again this year as hype was building for “The Keepers.” They even exhumed Maskell’s body for DNA testing, but found no match to evidence from the crime scene of Cesnik’s murder. Her death remains one of Baltimore County’s most notorious unsolved murders.
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