Baltimore County Police announced yesterday that the body of a local priest has been exhumed so that police can take a DNA sample as part of their ongoing investigation into the 1969 murder of a nun.
Reverend Joseph Maskell, whose body was exhumed, is a notorious figure in the Baltimore area. He served as the chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School for many years. Beginning in the early 1990’s, allegations of rape and sexual assault began to be levied against Maskell from many women, and a few men, who were assaulted by Maskell when they were teenagers.
In 1992, when the first allegation was made, Maskell was no longer at Keough High, but was the pastor at the Holy Cross Church in Baltimore. The Archdiocese of Baltimore removed him from his position there later that year and then in 1994, Maskell fled the country to avoid criminal charges.
In 2001, Maskell died, but now the Archdiocese of Baltimore has paid out more than a dozen settlements in the last few years related to the sexual abuse that Maskell committed from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.
But Maskell’s rape of several students is only part of the story here. In the evening of November 7th, 1969, Sister Catherine Cesnick, a nun who had taught English at Keough High School, went grocery shopping. That shopping trip was the last time anyone saw her alive. Her abandoned car was found near her apartment in a no-parking zone, but she otherwise disappeared. On January 3rd, 1970, just under two months after her disappearance, her body was found by two hunters in the Lansdowne area of Baltimore County. Forensic analysis determined that she had died of blunt force trauma to her head.
Former Keough students who have come forward regarding Maskell’s sexual abuse have stated that they believe Cesnick may have known about what Maskell was doing. Baltimore City Police began investigating Cesnick’s disappearance and quickly identified Maskell as a primary suspect, but many believe that the Catholic Church pressured police to drop the investigation, although no concrete evidence of the church’s meddling has been found. Once Cesnick’s body was discovered two months later the crime was then being investigated by the Baltimore County Police.
But the police never arrested anyone for Cesnick’s murder, and the case went cold until 1992. That year the first rape allegation was made against Maskell by Jean Wehner, and in 1994 Wehner told police that Maskell had taken her to see Cesnick’s body in 1969. She alleged that Maskell told her that Cesnick’s fate would be shared by anyone who crossed him. Police then questioned Maskell, who denied committing any crimes, and soon after he fled the country, hiding out in Ireland before passing away in 2001. Because nothing says "I'm innocent, I swear!" like fleeing the country.
Although there is no evidence at this point that the church directly interfered in the investigation into Cesnick’s murder, the church absolutely has a clear history of protecting priests who repeatedly rape children. As this article points out, between 1950 and 2015, the Catholic Church incurred costs of nearly $4 billion on matters relating to sex abuse committed by priests in the United States alone. And as I covered in a previous post that cited the same article, this year Pope Francis lessened the penalties on priests guilty of raping children. The Catholic Church is moving backwards on this issue!
The Vatican has a history of all sorts of criminal activity: mafia ties, money laundering, helping Nazis escape to South America after WWII, stealing babies from their mothers to sell for adoption, blackmailing, prostitution, and other abuses of power. It is unfortunately not all that surprising that an enormously wealthy, corrupt, and entrenched organization like the Vatican would work so hard to protect its own. After all, they protected Nazis for crying out loud! We can only hope that their power continues to decline more and more every year until they are finally, after long last, banished to history.
The DNA sample taken from Maskell will hopefully bring to a close the case of this tragic murder. A small consolation at this point, but at least the matter will be put to rest.