Is Father Joseph Maskell Still Alive? 'The Keepers' Details The Allegations Against The Priest

Netflix's The Keepers is the kind of show that will stick with you long after you've finished watching. It recounts a case five decades in the making, beginning with the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in 1969, then broadening to the alleged sexual abuse that surrounded it. At the center of the docuseries is Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Baltimore's Archbishop Keough — an all-girls Catholic high school where Cesnik had worked. And, as The Keepers digs deeper into Cesnik's story, viewers will undoubtedly be wondering if Father Joseph Maskell is still alive.

According to Baltimore's City Paper, he died in 2001, at the age of 62, from the effects of a major stroke. But in The Keepers, his harrowing legacy lives on. The investigation the show rehashes is winding and complex, but the basic theory viewers are given is this: During his years at Keough, Maskell allegedly facilitated repeated sexual assault against his students by himself and others, and when Cesnik allegedly found out about it, she was purportedly killed to cover up the dark secret. Maskell denied the sexual assault accusations until his death in 2001. He was never charged in connection with Cesnik's case.

In fact, the police never charged anyone with Cesnik's murder, and her death remains a mystery. In response to the sexual assault allegations against Maskell, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Baltimore acknowledged the accusations in a statement to Bustle:

Since the 1990s, when the Archdiocese of Baltimore first learned of an allegation of child sexual abuse against Maskell, and on numerous occasions since, the Archdiocese has publicly acknowledged and apologized for the horrific abuse committed by him. The Archdiocese reported the allegations to civil authorities in the 1990s and cooperated fully in any investigation, removed Father Maskell’s faculties to function as a priest, apologized to victims and offered them counseling assistance, sought additional victims, and provided direct financial assistance to 16 individuals abused by Maskell.
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The statement continues:

Though it was unaware of the abuse at the time it occurred approximately 50 years ago, the Archdiocese deeply regrets the damage that was caused to those who were so badly harmed and has worked diligently since becoming aware of their abuse to bring some measure of healing to them. The Archdiocese is wholly committed to protecting children, holding abusers accountable — clergy and laity alike, and promoting healing for victims. These are hallmarks of the Archdiocese’s child protection efforts, which we strive to constantly strengthen. There is no room in the Archdiocese for anyone who would harm a child and every effort must be made to ensure what happened before never happens again. It is our hope that The Keepers advances this pursuit, just as we hope the series helps those who have kept alive the memory of Sr. Cathy and our collective hope that justice will be won for her.

As reported by the Huffington Post, Cesnik went missing in 1969. Jean Wehner, then a 16-year-old junior at Keough, claimed that Father Maskell had taken her to see Cesnik's body before it was discovered by hunters in January 1970. Wehner claimed that she had stooped down to sweep maggots from Cesnik's face when Maskell allegedly told her, "You see what happens when you say bad things about people?" The allegation was initially dismissed because maggots are not usually present in cold November temperatures, but an autopsy later showed there were, in fact, maggots in Cesnik's throat, according to the Huffington Post. According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore's website, "When suspicions arose regarding Maskell in 1994, he was interviewed by the police and also by The Baltimore Sun about the allegations of sexual abuse and also about the murder of Sr. Cathy." He was never charged in connection with any of these allegations and a recent sample taken posthumously of his DNA did not match crime scene evidence, according to The Baltimore Sun.

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In 1994, Wehner and Teresa Lancaster, another former student, filed a civil lawsuit against Maskell. Wehner had relied heavily on repressed memories she'd only recently uncovered, and at the time, that concept was met with major backlash. Ultimately, the judge ruled that recovered memories could not restart Maryland's three-year statute of limitations, and in 1995, the case was thrown out.

That case is only a small slice of the engrossing yet hard-to-stomach story that unfolds throughout The Keepers, and even though Maskell has been dead for 16 years, the show makes him feel eerily alive.