(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you don’t want to know what happens in “The Keepers”)
The Netflix docuseries “The Keepers” includes accounts from six people who say Father Joseph Maskell sexually assaulted them decades ago — but filmmaker Ryan White says Maskell had many more victims, at least 40 in all.
“The Keepers” explores the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, who disappeared in November 1969 and whose body was discovered in January of 1970. The documentary investigates whether Maskell had Sister Cathy killed because she was about to expose him and others for sexual abusing teenage students at Archbishop Keough High School.
“There are six survivors showcased in the documentary but we had many conversations with other survivors who weren’t featured in the documentary,” White told TheWrap. “Our focus was definitely on the survivors of Keough High School, but many Maskell victims came after Keough, and it’s horrifying. We weren’t actively looking at what he was doing after Keough but obviously, Charles played a narrative in the abuse.”
“I would say there were at least 40 survivors… and most of them are no longer alive,” he said.
White said the film’s researchers located and talked to about 25 of the 40 abuse survivors.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not respond to requests for comment, and Maskell and his attorney in a 1995 sexual assault case have died. But the Archdiocese released a statement on Wednesday, saying in part that the Church has “provided counseling assistance and direct financial assistance to victims of Maskell” as well as offering “personal meetings and apologies to any survivor who has come forward.”
“Suggestions of a cover-up by the archdiocese are speculative and false,” said the statement. (You can read it in its entirety below.)
At the time of Cesnik’s death, she was a 26-year-old drama and English teacher at the school and Maskell was its 30-year-old chaplain.
Jean Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, both of whom appear in the docu-series, filed charges against Maskell in 1994 as anonymous Jane Doe and Jane Roe. The case was eventually thrown out on a technicality in 1995, and Maskell denied all the allegations up until his death in 2001.
Earlier this week, CNN reported that a DNA sample taken from the exhumed remains of Maskell did not match the DNA from the murder scene of Cesnik. Police opened Maskell’s grave on Feb. 28.
“The Keepers” is now streaming on Netflix.
Here is the Archbishop’s statement:
Dear Friends in Christ,
I write to call your attention to an upcoming online docu-series released by Netflix May 19 concerning the unsolved murder in 1969 of Sister Catherine Cesnik, a nun and former teacher at the former Archbishop Keough High School in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The series will also reportedly focus on the question of whether Sr. Cesnik’s murder involved Joseph Maskell, a priest of the Archdiocese who was accused of sexually abusing numerous students while serving as chaplain at Archbishop Keough. Some believe that Sr. Cesnik may have been murdered because she was aware of the abuse and was going to report it to authorities. I write today to provide you with some facts and background information that may or may not be included in the documentary.
First, it is important to remember that prevention of child abuse and pastoral outreach to those affected are the cornerstones of the Archdiocese’s actions and policies. We encourage anyone with information about child sexual abuse to contact appropriate authorities.
The Archdiocese is committed to promoting healing for survivors of sexual abuse. As a pastoral measure, the Church has provided counseling assistance and direct financial assistance to victims of Maskell. In addition, the Archdiocese has offered personal meetings and apologies to any survivor who has come forward and continues to be in communication with survivors to discuss ways of promoting their healing and an understanding of the effects of their abuse. Their abuse was horribly tragic and the Archdiocese remains deeply saddened and regretful that someone representing the Church could have perpetrated such crimes against children. The Archdiocese has also reached out to the family of Sister Cathy to offer support.
The tragic events discussed in this docu-series have been the subject of both Archdiocesan disclosures and numerous local and national news stories. The Archdiocesan website has links to some of those previous articles and statements going back to 1969 that provide more detail about these events. The Netflix series is the latest to deal with them.
The Archdiocese first became aware of an allegation of abuse by Maskell in 1992, more than 20 years after the abuse occurred. At that time, the adult survivor and her attorney were encouraged to report the matter to civil authorities and Maskell was removed from ministry and referred for evaluation and treatment. He denied the allegation, underwent months of evaluation and treatment, and was returned to ministry in 1993 after the Archdiocese was unable to corroborate the allegation of sexual abuse after its own investigation and conversations with attorneys representing the individual who initially came forward.
When subsequent individuals came forward to accuse Maskell in 1994 he was permanently prohibited from public ministry. The Archdiocese made additional reports and has cooperated with authorities subsequent to that time. Further, the Archdiocese held a public meeting at St. Augustine Parish in Elkridge, where Maskell was serving at the time of his removal from ministry, attended by more than 100 people and covered by the media, regarding the allegations against Maskell. The allegations were once again made public, along with his assignments, during the Archdiocese’s 2002 disclosure of all known clergymen who had been credibly accused of sexual abusing a child. Maskell died in 2001. The Archdiocese’s Independent Child Abuse Review Board, now chaired by (ret.) Judge Joseph Murphy, has repeatedly reviewed the Archdiocese’s response to the allegations involving Maskell since the initial allegation was made.
Regarding the tragic murder of Sister Cathy, the Archdiocese offered a reward in 1994 for anyone with information leading to the conviction of her killer. The first suggestion to the Archdiocese of Baltimore that Maskell might have been involved in Sister Cathy’s death was made in 1994. Both the police and the media interviewed Maskell in 1994 regarding the nun’s death and the allegations of sexual abuse. The Archdiocese has no record of Sister Cathy contacting the Archdiocese about Maskell. No criminal charges were ever filed in connection with Sister Cathy’s death or the allegations of abuse.
I pray this information is helpful to you. Additional information, including a set of frequently asked questions, is available here on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website. The website contains Archdiocesan policies and other information about the Church’s critically important efforts to protect children through screening, training, education, reporting and cooperation with civil authorities, investigation, zero-tolerance, pastoral outreach, and oversight.
Please join me in praying for those impacted by the events discussed in this production, for victims of sexual abuse, and for our Church and its efforts to protect children and to bring healing and comfort to survivors.
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore