What Happened To Father Joseph Maskell? 'The Keepers' Priest Is At The Center Of The Series
Netflix's The Keepers begins with one question: Who killed Sister Cathy Cesnik? But as the seven-part docuseries presses on, it becomes clear that it's far more than a murder mystery. In the show, intrepid researchers Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins dig into the beloved nun's death and also into Father Joseph Maskell, the chaplain of Baltimore's Archbishop Keough High, where Cesnik had worked in the late '60s. Several former students allege that Maskell was the ringleader of systemic sexual abuse within the school, and theorize that Cesnik was killed to cover up his alleged crimes because she may have known about them. So, for those too curious to push through The Keepers' entirety, what happened to Father Maskell in the end?
After Cesnik's murder in 1969, Maskell continued his post at Keough. According to The Huffington Post, he didn't leave the job until 1975 — six years later. When Jean Wehner, who'd attended Keough while both Cesnik and Maskell were employed there, reported abuse allegations against Maskell to the Baltimore Archdiocese in 1992, the priest was working as the pastor of Holy Cross Church, about four miles from the high school.
Maskell was temporarily removed from the ministry for psychological evaluation five months later, in October 1992, The Huffington Post reported. Sean Caine, the Archdiocese Executive Director of Communications, told the outlet:
“During that time, the Archdiocese attempted to corroborate the allegation, which Maskell denied, by seeking out any additional victims on its own and through the attorney representing the individuals who initially came forward. After months of trying unsuccessfully to corroborate the allegation, the Archdiocese returned Maskell to ministry.”
The Archdiocese now acknowledges the allegations against Maskell and provided Bustle with the following statement:
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.
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.
In 1995, Wehner and another former student, Teresa Lancaster, filed a civil lawsuit against Maskell. Ultimately, the judge ruled that because the case hinged upon recovered memories, it fell outside of Maryland's three-year statute of limitations, and it was dismissed.
In regard to Cesnik's murder, Maskell had been considered a key suspect, then-homicide detective Nick Giangrasso said in an interview with The Huffington Post. Giangrasso had led the investigation for the two months Cesnik was missing, but had to turn the case over to Baltimore County when her body was found outside of city limits. He claimed that he'd tried to interview Maskell a number of times, but the priest was always busy and never available. "It got to the point that Maskell was the number one guy we wanted to talk to, but we never got a chance," he told the outlet.
According to the Archdiocese of Baltimore's website, Maskell was reportedly interviewed by police in connection with Cesnik's death in the '90s — two decades after her murder — but no one was ever charged.
Five decades later, Cesnik's murder remains unsolved. According to The Baltimore Sun/City Paper, Maskell was permanently removed from the ministry in 1994, after the Archidiocese found the evidence against him to be “credible,” Caine told the Baltimore City Paper. Maskell subsequently fled to Ireland and lived there for a time before returning to the Baltimore area, where he eventually died. In February 2017, Maskell's body was exhumed to gather DNA in connection with Cesnik's case. But, The Baltimore Sun reported this week that his sample did not match crime scene evidence — and so the case remains cold.