Baltimore Archdiocese Agrees to $50,000 Settlement with Clergy Sex-abuse Victim Who Said She Was Shown Body of Murdered Nun
By Tom Nugent
January 6, 2017
January 2017 – A woman who 24 years ago tried to warn the Catholic Church in Maryland that a priest had shown her the body of a murdered teaching nun recently earned a $50,000 settlement from the Archdiocese of Baltimore (AOB) for clergy sexual-abuse “injuries” she reportedly received while attending a Baltimore girls’ Catholic high school in the late 1960s.
The mediated settlement marked the latest startling development in one of the most tangled and perplexing homicide “cold cases” in Maryland history . . . the 1969 slaying of a 26-year-old teaching nun, Sister Catherine Cesnik, who reportedly had been trying to blow the whistle on widespread sexual abuse by two priests at Archbishop Keough High School in southwest Baltimore.
Still unsolved after thousands of hours of fruitless investigation by Maryland police and the FBI, the shocking case made national headlines recently, when retired Baltimore-area homicide detectives disclosed that the Catholic Church had used its powerful influence to impede their investigation of the Cesnik murder
Now 63 and practicing as a certified Spiritual Director/Life Coach and Reflexologist in the Baltimore area, Jean Hargadon Wehner (CTACC, NBCR) became a highly controversial figure in the mid-1990s after telling police and Church officials that the priest who served as chaplain at her high school, Father A. Joseph Maskell, had taken her to a remote patch of open land near a dumpster a few miles from the school. There, she said, he had shown her the decaying body of her former English teacher.
Both the Church and the police responded – during a high-profile 1990s lawsuit in which Wehner was identified only as “Jane Doe,” reportedly for her own protection – by suggesting that she was an unstable, dubious witness whose memory of being shown the deceased nun’s body could not be trusted.
But the recent financial settlement, agreed to by the AOB last November, appears to lend credibility to Wehner’s account of the deeply traumatic incident she says took place in a deserted area in Lansdowne. The area is located less than a mile from a rectory where the priest had been living prior to the killing.
“I think the Archdiocese of Baltimore now recognizes the credibility of Jean Wehner and the other Keough [sex-abuse] victims as it relates to [Father] Maskell’s horrendous behavior,” said Baltimore-area attorney Sheldon N. Jacobs, who represented Wehner and about a dozen other abuse victims during recent settlement mediation sessions.
Jacobs also noted that he was pleased to have obtained the settlements for his reportedly traumatized clients, before adding: “We were disappointed with the amounts of the settlements, considering what these women went through.”
Wehner agreed that the settlements were low – but then pointed out that she had been more interested in obtaining acknowledgment of the reported sex-abuse crimes at Keough than in obtaining a large settlement during the mediation.
“The Catholic Church did its best to destroy my credibility when I came forward with the information about the priest and the murdered Sister Cathy,” she said during a recent interview with Inside Baltimore. “Their refusal to acknowledge – or act on – the information I gave them was very painful at the time [the mid-1990s] and traumatized me all over again.
“But I have been healing and getting much stronger in recent years, and for me, this [financial] settlement with the Archdiocese of Baltimore opens a new chapter in the history of what happened to Sister Cathy when she tried to defend several of us Keough students from the rampant sexual abuse that was taking place at the high school.”
When asked why the AOB agreed to the $50,000 settlement with Wehner, Archdiocesan Executive Director of Communications Sean T. Caine said via email that the “Archdiocese has had a longstanding practice of promoting healing for victims by offering therapeutic counseling assistance to victims of abuse for as long as it is helpful. . . .
“Victim-survivors are free to engage a counselor of their choosing and the Archdiocese pays the provider directly. For those victims who wish to have nothing to do with the Church and/or who would prefer to be in control of their own healing, we offer them a one-time financial payment through a non-adversarial process with a retired, non-Catholic judge. We make these offers without regard to legal liability. . . . These financial agreements are completely voluntary and are in lieu of any future counseling payments or any other obligations from the Archdiocese.”
The AOB was responding to emailed questions from Inside Baltimore, including this one:
Does the AOB believe that this recent settlement agreement between Wehner and the AOB enhances Jean Wehner’s credibility as an alleged witness who says she reported to the AOB in the mid-1990s that she was shown the body of the murdered Sister Catherine Cesnik by Father A. Joseph Maskell, soon after the nun’s death in 1969?
Two Other Witnesses Claimed To Have Seen Nun’s Body in 1969
Long debated among police investigators and journalists, the issue of “Jane Doe’s credibility” has been a key element in the labyrinthine history of the still unsolved killing of the 26-year-old teacher and member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND).
But two other recent findings by Inside Baltimore also appear to indicate that the nun’s body was seen by other witnesses with links to both Baltimore-area police and the offending priest who served as chaplain at the high school from 1967 to 1975.
—A former high-ranking law enforcement official in Maryland, now retired, said he took a statement from a woman in the mid-1990s who insisted she had been shown the dead nun’s body by a policeman. According to the official, her statement noted that the corpse she saw was “at a different location” from the Lansdowne garbage dump area where it was discovered by two hunters on January 3, 1970. (In recent years, three former Keough students have told Inside Baltimore that they were raped by policemen as part of the abuse they suffered while attending the high school. The record also shows that the offending priest was serving as chaplain to the Baltimore County Police and Maryland State Police during the period in which some of the reported abuse took place.)
—A third witness, a longtime parishioner at the Lansdowne Catholic Church where the high school chaplain served as assistant pastor (St. Clement), reportedly told several former St. Clement parishioners that she had also seen the nun’s body at a location more than a mile distant from the dumpster area.
Although Church and police officials later told reporters that Jean Wehner had gotten some of the details wrong when she described her 1969 visit to the dead nun’s body in the mid-1990s, press reports of the day clearly suggested otherwise.
While reporting Wehner’s description of the layout of the area and the physical details surrounding the corpse, a June 19, 1994 Baltimore Sun story concluded that “in interviews with police and the Sun, she [Wehner] provided details about the body that were known only to investigators at the time, and detectives have not dismissed her claims.”
Describing her visit to the deserted field in a recent story in Inside Baltimore, Wehner said that she had been driven there by the sex-abusing Keough high school chaplain, Father A. Joseph Maskell, several weeks after the nun vanished during a shopping trip in Baltimore on the evening of November 7, 1969.
“He told me he would take me to Sister Cathy,” said Wehner, “and he led me to believe she was still alive. I had no idea where we were going. As I walked around a corner, I saw her on the ground. I ran over, bent down, and began wiping maggots off her face.
“As I stared at my hands in shock, Father Maskell leaned over and whispered in my ear: ‘You see what happens when you say bad things about people?’”
Although the AOB two years ago confirmed to Inside Baltimore that “guns were found” in the rectory where Father Maskell last lived – before eventually being defrocked in the wake of “credible” reports that he was a serial sex-abuser – the Archdiocesan officials have always denied having any knowledge of the priest’s involvement in the murder of Sister Cathy.
But the AOB’s frequent denials of a Church cover-up of the murder seem for many observers to have been undercut by other information first published by Inside Baltimore, including the following:
—A retired School Sister of Notre Dame nun – Sister Mary Florita of Harrisburg, Pa., later known by her non-religious name, Marian Weller – said she “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.” Weller went on to say that “two older detectives” from the Baltimore County Police Department visited her in the mid-1990s and told her: “We know the priest was involved in Sister Cathy’s murder, and we know it happened because she was about to report the sex abuse at the school.”
—Maryland attorney and Keough High School graduate Teresa Lancaster, who was given $40,000 for her abuse-related injuries by the AOB in 2011 – later told Inside Baltimore that a high-ranking Baltimore law enforcement official who was involved in investigating the alleged Keough abuse told her during an interview in 1994 that “we know the priest was involved and there is nothing we can do about it.” Lancaster said she understood the law enforcement official to be referring to both the Keough sexual abuse and Sister Cathy’s murder in November of 1969. Lancaster also said Father Maskell, reportedly while serving as chaplain to the Baltimore County Police Department, on one occasion allowed two policemen to sexually assault her while he looked on and did not intervene.
—Another Keough graduate who reportedly gave a statement to the Baltimore County Police Department in the mid-1990s said Father Maskell appeared at the school and warned her not to say anything about the ongoing sex abuse . . . while waving a gun at her. Sister Cathy vanished that same day and was never seen alive again.
—Three Keough graduates who each received settlements for “injuries” of $40,000 or more during the past few years have told Inside Baltimore that they were raped by policemen with the approval of Father Maskell.
Wehner: “My Focus is on the Survivors”
Although she said she feels “empowered and encouraged” by recent news media reports that now appear to support her credibility as the first witness who claimed to have seen the murdered nun’s body, Jean Wehner made it clear that she is “no longer waiting” for police investigators or Catholic Church officials to vindicate her.
“I have been on a long journey of spiritual growth and healing,” she said during a lengthy interview in December, “and I have been greatly helped by my memory of Sister Cathy during that journey.
“She was a very brave woman who tried her best to help those who were being abused and she paid for it with her life. I honor her spirit and I still feel very close to her, even today. And I no longer need to have validation from others about what I witnessed during the crimes that were committed against me and others.
“These days my focus is on the survivors – and especially on those who are still hiding. I want them to know that they’re not alone. They’ll be supported and believed if they come forward to speak. As a survivor, I’m convinced that healing and reconciliation can only occur when there is open acknowledgment of what happened in the past.”
Jean Hargadon Wehner: Statement Read and Filed during Settlement Mediation
Abuse survivor Jean Hargadon Wehner composed the following Statement during her settlement mediation with the Archdiocese of Baltimore last November.
“I entered into this mediation with the AOB with two of my heart’s desires in mind. One was justice for all innocent victims, myself and Cathy Cesnik included. The other was to take back the power the Church took from me, not 45 years ago (that struggle is ongoing), but 24 years ago when I began remembering these crimes against me at Joseph Maskell’s and other hands.
“At that time the Church’s response was a re-raping of me and my family, which had an unfathomable impact on us, individually and as a whole. I now believe the AOB knew that what I was remembering was just the tip of the iceberg. I also believe the AOB paid millions of dollars to keep their secret. By hiding behind the Statute of Limitations, when I by all rights was within my three-year grace period, you left that predator and others free to roam among the innocent. I hold the Catholic Church’s spiritual leaders, who are supposedly ‘called’ to nurture, guide and protect their Church, accountable.
“On this holy day of obligation for practicing Catholics, All Saint’s Day, I want to acknowledge Cathy Cesnik. I believe she was killed in 1969 naively hopeful that she could convince Joseph Maskell and others to stop hurting us girls, not unlike most of the saints of the Catholic Church. After twenty-three years of working with the effects caused me by the terrorizing trauma of being shown Cathy’s dead body by Joseph Maskell, I can speak my truth without fear of what the AOB, the legal system or the police department deem true.
“The torturous abuse I suffered at those evil people’s hands got five times worse after Cathy Cesnik’s death. That said, I do love and appreciate her for trying to help. Cathy Cesnik’s concern for us girls and her efforts to do the right thing will always be a positive example to me and many others.
“Twenty-four years ago, during my ‘dark night of the soul,’ I was made to feel by the AOB not only totally alone in my accusations, but also solely responsible for proving them. I don’t know over the years how many other sexual abuse survivors of Maskell’s have negotiated with the AOB. I do know you’ve recently heard from quite a few of us. You have your proof! I believe the AOB admits the wrongdoing of [Father Maskell] by entering into these [settlement] mediations. As a survivor who was an active member of your Church, I can attest to how important it would have been if my Church officials had supported me. You could have put ads in the papers and invited all broken, wounded and terrified victims to come out from hiding and begin the healing process, no matter what the cost!
“Then, after gathering your solid proof, make a public statement that this man was what you already knew him to be, as stated to me early on in the quiet of my then church rectory, a person capable of committing these horrible crimes. This could have happened during the six months I was meeting with your representatives and lawyer before Maskell was ever removed from his job at Holy Cross Parish in Baltimore. Then he would not have been placed on the AOB’s ‘full-disclosure’ list as a defrocked priest ‘credibly accused’ of being a sexual predator. He would have been tried and found guilty of torturous spiritual, physical and sexual rape by a court of law.
“Innocent victims of your congregations and their families need to hear their Church officials say publicly that these accusations against Joseph Maskell are true. They also need to hear their Church leaders take some responsibility for this, considering as Maskell’s employer, these atrocities happened on your watch.
“I request that you take out ads on the front pages of Maryland and national newspapers stating the number of abuse survivors of Joseph Maskell who have negotiated with AOB over the years, so other survivors will know they’re not alone and/or crazy. Those ads should also state that, ‘We, the official representatives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, acknowledge the molestation and raping of girls at Archbishop Keough High School from 1967 to 1975 at the hands of our then employee/Church representative Joseph Maskell and others.
“I believe this is one way that true reconciliation can happen.”