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  Police Dig up Records Priest Ordered Buried

By Robert A. Erlandson and Joe Nawrozki
The Baltimore Sun
August 10, 1994

Baltimore City detectives investigating sex abuse allegations against a

Roman Catholic priest dug up a van load of confidential records yesterday

the priest had ordered buried four years ago in Brooklyn's Holy Cross

Cemetery.

City police were accompanied by the two Baltimore County homicide

detectives assigned to the revived investigation of the unsolved 1969

slaying of Sister Catherine Ann Cesnik.

A high-ranking county police official said investigators were there

because the name of the priest — the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell — had come up

during their probe of the 25-year-old crime.

Father Maskell and Sister Catherine were both on the faculty of the

all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore in the late

1960s.

Father Maskell, 55, stepped down as pastor of St. Augustine's Church in

Elkridge on July 31 amid allegations that he had sexually abused students at

Keough during his tenure as chaplain and counselor from 1967 to 1975.

In interviews with the police and The Sun, Father Maskell has denied all

allegations that he abused former students or had any knowledge of the

slaying of Sister Catherine.

The papers exhumed yesterday were buried in the cemetery in 1990 at the

direction of Father Maskell, who was then pastor of Holy Cross Parish in

South Baltimore, according to two sources familiar with the burial. They

included what appeared to be psychological test evaluations and canceled

checks.

The city officers, who are investigating the sex abuse allegations and had

obtained a search warrant, were accompanied by two Baltimore County homicide

detectives.

"Our interest in being there was not the allegations of sex abuse," said

Capt. Rustin E. Price, commander of the county homicide unit. "We were there

because of the Cesnik murder investigation. . . . Father Maskell's name has

come up in our investigation."

Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May, head of the city's

Sex Abuse Unit, directed yesterday's excavation but declined to comment on

the operation.

William D. Blaul, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the

archdiocese was aware of the excavation and is cooperating with city

authorities. The archdiocese owns the cemetery, which is managed by Holy

Cross, he said.

Father Maskell's attorney, J. Michael Lehane, said he could not comment on

the search.

After Father Maskell's departure from St. Augustine's, officials told

parishioners that he had requested leave to seek inpatient therapy for

anxiety and stress brought on by "the prospect of civil litigation and a

criminal investigation."

The archdiocese said yesterday that the Rev. Gerard J. Bowen of Holy

Trinity Church in Glen Burnie has been appointed administrator of St.

Augustine's in Father Maskell's place.

Soggy records

Eleven police officers arrived at the cemetery shortly after 7 a.m.

yesterday. After a backhoe operator dug out the top layers of earth,

officers dug down to the stacks of papers with shovels.

From the pit, which was about 12 feet square and 10 feet deep, they spread

the soggy records on the ground. After sifting through them, investigators

placed selected documents in black plastic trash bags.

Detective Donna Askew, who is leading the police investigation, declined

to identify the records piled into the city-owned van but said, "We took

what we needed after I looked them over based on the information we've

developed."

The pit is located in a remote section of the cemetery, surrounded by

woods and undergrowth, where excess earth and old flowers are dumped. Police

were led to the spot by a former cemetery employee who said he was ordered

to dig the pit at Father Maskell's direction.

Ex-worker recalls event

The former employee, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said he was

called by the cemetery supervisor in July 1990 and ordered to dig a pit 12

feet square and 13 feet deep.

"I could have buried a backhoe in there. I was told, 'Don't ask why,' "

the man said.

That afternoon, he said, a pickup truck, driven by a man he believed to be

a relative of Father Maskell, arrived packed with boxes of documents. He

said he and the driver threw the papers into the pit; then the driver

returned to the Holy Cross rectory in the 100 block of E. West St. for two

more loads.

While he was waiting between loads, the former employee told The Sun in

March, he examined some of the papers, which appeared to be psychological

evaluation sheets of men and women. He said he did not note any details,

however.

When they were through, the former employee said, he was ordered to

backfill the pit and seed it so that it couldn't be found. The man said he

kept the location in his head until he became aware of the investigation of

Father Maskell. Then he sketched a map, which he placed in a safe deposit

box of a local bank.

A source close to Father Maskell, who also spoke under condition of

anonymity, denied that there was anything "sinister" about the buried

documents. He said the priest and a psychologist used a federal grant to set

up a psychological testing center in 1975 and that Father Maskell took the

records to Holy Cross with him in 1985. Because of a ban on open burning,

the priest decided to dispose of them by burial at the cemetery, the source

said.

The link between the allegations of sex abuse against Father Maskell and

the slaying of Sister Catherine was forged this spring by one of the women

who alleged that Father Maskell had abused her while she was a student at

Keough.

Nun disappears

The woman told her attorneys, police and The Sun that she had told Sister

Catherine about the abuse at the end of the 1969 school term.

Shortly afterward, Sister Catherine left the Sisters of Notre Dame Convent

and her position at Keough to teach in Baltimore City schools.

The nun disappeared Nov. 7, 1969, after she left on an evening shopping

trip from her residence at the Carriage House Apartments on North Bend Road

in Southwest Baltimore.

Police conducted an intensive search but turned up nothing until Jan. 3,

1970, when two hunters stumbled upon the partially clothed body on a frozen

field in Lansdowne. An autopsy showed that she had died from a blow to the

head.

But the former Keough student said that Father Maskell drove her in his

car to the body of Sister Catherine before it was discovered and told her

that she was responsible for the nun's death because she had told Sister

Catherine about the alleged sexual abuse.

After a silence of more than 20 years, the woman first brought her

allegations of sexual abuse to the Archdiocese in 1992, while Father Maskell

was still pastor at Holy Cross.

 
 

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