Did the Catholic Church Get Away with Murder?
By Tom Nugent
October 2, 2014
October 2014 – Forty-five years after the murder of a Catholic teaching nun who was reportedly trying to alert authorities to widespread sex abuse at her Catholic high school in Baltimore, a victim of the alleged abuse has come forward to say that Church officials and local police “know the priest was involved” in the murder – but have been engaged in a decades-long cover-up.
Baltimore attorney Teresa Lancaster, now 60, also says she was awarded $40,000 for her abuse-related injuries – along with cost-free psychological counseling – by Church officials four years ago. She was given the money, she says, in return for signing a release document drawn up by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. A letter to her from Archdiocesan officials to that effect was reviewed by Inside Baltimore and confirms Ms. Lancaster’s statements about both the award and the terms of the release.
The same Archdiocese of Baltimore sent Ms. Lancaster a letter of apology for the crimes that were reportedly committed against her as a child at Archbishop Keough High School in southwest Baltimore. The letter to Ms. Lancaster from the Archdiocese of Baltimore Office of Child & Youth Protection Director Alison D’Alessandro and dated December 7, 2010, reads in part as follows:
Please accept my apology on behalf of [former] Archbishop [Edwin] O’Brien and the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the suffering that has resulted from your experiences.
It has long been the policy of the Archdiocese to offer counseling assistance to anyone who may have been harmed by a cleric or other representatives of the Church. . . .
As we discussed, we would like to assist you with counseling services. We will make payments directly to the counselor of your choice. . . .
I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to speak with me about this. Again, I am deeply sorry for what has happened.
In spite of the compassion and concern displayed in the letter, however, the Archdiocese of Baltimore has never publicly admitted that the Keough sex abuse – now alleged to have affected at least 50 students in the late 1960s and early 1970s – actually took place.
Instead of coming clean about the reported abuse – which has been documented in about 100 police interviews, according to Baltimore law enforcement officials – the Archdiocese of Baltimore vigorously contested a 1994 lawsuit by the victims. That suit, which sought a total of $40 million in damages, was dismissed on a legal technicality involving the admissibility of “recovered memory” evidence in cases affected by statute-of-limitations restrictions.
“The Catholic Church in Baltimore knew very well in 1994 that the abuse had taken place,” said Ms. Lancaster, while noting that Church officials eventually defrocked the accused priest over it. “But they went to court anyway and did everything they could to prevent the facts from coming out. Their legal maneuverings were cynical and despicable – especially when you consider the fact that lives have been destroyed by the abuse.
“As everyone involved knows, there have been suicides and deaths from drug and alcohol addiction that were the direct result of the abuse . . . to say nothing about the broken marriages and the years that were spent in and out of mental institutions and psychotherapy.”
Covering Up the Murder of a Nun?
While describing the rapes and other sexual assaults she endured at the hands of the alleged abuser-priest – the late Father A. Joseph Maskell, the chaplain at the high school during her years there (1967-71) – Ms. Lancaster said she begged a second priest at the school (the late Father E. Neil Magnus, then the Keough Director of Religious Services) to help her fend off the sexual assaults by Father Maskell.
“I asked Father Magnus in 1970 if he’d be my counselor because I was being sexually abused by Father Maskell,” said Ms. Lancaster. “But Father Magnus said, ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t help you. Try to stay away from him.’
“And then he shut his office door in my face.”
After pointing out that “I was afraid of the man [Father Maskell] because he had a gun,” Ms. Lancaster described how the priest was also serving as the chaplain to the Baltimore Police Department, and how he would sometimes take her on “police runs” with policemen and then encourage them to sexually assault her in his presence.
“On one occasion, Halloween night of 1970, I was sexually assaulted by two policemen in uniforms, while Maskell looked on,” she said. “He also took me to a gynecologist in Towson [Dr. Christian Richter]. While Maskell raped me, the gynecologist felt my breasts.”
Ms. Lancaster said that Father Maskell threatened to have her committed to a Baltimore-area facility for “troubled teenagers” if she refused to submit to the abuse or tried to report it. “The threat of being locked away was terrifying,” she added.
She also said that a high-ranking Baltimore law enforcement official who was involved in investigating the alleged Keough abuse in 1994 told her during an interview that “we know the priest was involved” in Sister Cathy’s murder in November of 1969, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Ms. Lancaster’s description of the investigator’s comment that “we know the priest was involved” dovetails with numerous other reports from police, Catholic Church and Keough sources – all of whom have told Inside Baltimore that both the Church and Baltimore-area police have been covering up the murder for decades.
In recent months, for example, a retired high-ranking Baltimore police official confirmed that city police in the 1990s took statements from two students who said they visited Sister Cathy Cesnik’s Baltimore apartment to complain about the abuse only one day before she was abducted on Nov. 7, 1969.
According to the police statements, the two students were surprised when their visit to the nun was interrupted by Father Maskell, who was angry at Sister Cathy and vowed to kill one of the students, if that student reported the ongoing sex abuse at the school. The nun, who reportedly told a witness that she had given Father Maskell “a couple of days” to resign from his post at the high school or she would report him for abusing the students, was abducted one day later. Her body wasn’t found until January 3 of 1970.
Those police statements are supported by a now-retired School Sister of Notre Dame nun – Sister Mary Florita of Harrisburg, Pa. – who said: “I knew several of the kids at Keough, and one of them described to me how three or four girls who were being abused by this priest had gone to Sister Cathy for help.”
Sister Mary Florita also said that “two older police detectives” from Baltimore visited her in the mid-1990s and told her “we know the priest was involved in Sister Cathy’s death.”
In addition, a Keough graduate told investigators during the 1994 lawsuit that she had been taken by Father Maskell to a Lansdowne garbage dump where the nun’s body was later found. There she was warned, she said, that the same thing could happen to her if she reported the sex abuse.
Another veteran Baltimore police officer, now retired, told Inside Baltimore that “several people in the police department” had mentioned “the cover-up on the Cesnik murder” in recent years. In addition, 1970 Keough graduate Jacalyn Bierman, who spent ten years as a police officer in the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said that when she tried to investigate the nun’s killing on her own, she was told not to ask questions about the case.
“I started digging around in the records, but I was advised by a high-ranking Baltimore City Police Department officer not to ask questions about the case,” Ms. Bierman told Inside Baltimore. “In my opinion, the odds are 99.999 percent that the priest was involved in Sister Cathy’s murder.”