The Baltimore Banner [Baltimore MD]
June 12, 2023
By Jessica Calefati, Tim Prudente, Liz Bowie, and Dylan Segelbaum
A former nun from Philadelphia who died 31 years ago is the last alleged abuser to be identified among the names concealed in the Maryland attorney general’s report on child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, according to census records, obituaries and documents from her religious order.
Catherine A. Hasson joined the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia in 1943, lived at the group’s headquarters for one year, and taught first grade at St. Katharine School in East Baltimore for one year, the order confirmed. She left religious life in 1945, shortly before she would have professed her vows.
Those details match the report’s description ofthe accused woman listed as No. 149.
Hasson was one of 10 alleged perpetrators and five church officials accused of covering up abuse whose names were stripped from the report for procedural reasons. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse have repeatedly called for the names to come out, arguing that healing isn’t possible without full public accountability. And for the last two months, reporters and advocates have worked to uncover the names, one by one.
Now that all the names have been revealed, the archdiocese and the judge who ordered the redactions should release a clean draft of the report that includes all the names, said David Lorenz, the leader of the Maryland chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
“There may be other victims who are ashamed to come forward,” Lorenz said. But once they know their abuser has been named publicly, “maybe they would realize they are not alone.”
A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment on the identification. Hasson’s family declined to comment.
The allegations against Hasson involve one of the youngest children in the report and appear on Page 437. In 2004, a woman in her mid-60s reported to the archdiocese that Sister Joan Agnes, her first-grade teacher at St. Katharine in 1944, orally raped her “several times a week for the full school year” in the coatroom attached to her classroom. The teacher allegedly told the woman the abuse was “punishment assigned by the principal for misbehavior.”
Records of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia show Sister Joan Agnes was the religious name of Catherine Agnes Hasson.
School records for St. Katharine show two first-grade teachers in 1944: Hasson and Sister John Catherine. No. 149 cannot be Sister John Catherine because she remained a nun for decades, the order confirmed. The reports says No. 149 left the order in June 1945.
During the 1944-1945 school year, Hasson also repeatedly sought to control her first graders with physical violence, according to the report. On the first day of school, she allegedly locked the child she went on to sexually assault in a closet under a stairwell because she was scared and crying. The girl was 6 years old at the time.
Hasson also hit students on their bare bottoms if they misbehaved, made them slap their hands with rulers if they touched something off limits, and forced them to eat soap if they talked in class, according to the report. By the time the student returned for second grade, Hasson was gone.
The report says the archdiocese notified authorities in Maryland about the abuse after the survivor reported it. Meanwhile, a representative of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia said the group was not aware of the allegation.
When a reporter spoke to a member of the sisters, the nun said someone else had called asking for information about Hasson earlier this year, shortly before publication of the report. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment.
Catholic nuns in the 1940s had total control of their classrooms, said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame who studies sexual abuse by religious women. That means it’s unlikely that other teachers would have known about the allegations against Hasson.
“They never would have guessed the scale and depravity of this behavior,” said Cummings, who noted that abuse by religious sisters has gotten little public scrutiny because abuse by priests was much more common.
Hasson grew up in South Philadelphia in a large Irish-American family, census records show. Her father was killed in an Atlantic Oil Company explosion in the spring of 1944, shortly before she joined the teaching staff at St. Katharine, according to an obituary, and her mother died several years later.
The 1940 census lists Hasson as a 17-year-old student. The 1950 census describes her as a 27-year-old nun, living at a convent, even though her relationship with the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia ended five years earlier, according to the order.
After leaving religious life, Hasson married Charles J. Salmons, also of Philadelphia. They welcomed a son in 1955. Hasson, whose married name was Catherine A. Salmons, died in 1991. Her husband is also deceased. The couple had lived in the Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Crescentville and the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Olney.
Hasson is not the only person connected to St. Katharine who has been accused of child sexual abuse. The Rev. Joseph Davies, a longtime assistant pastor at the parish affiliated with the school, was accused of sexually assaulting at least eight boys in the 1950s and ’60s, some of whom belonged to St. Katharine parish. The allegations against Davies were made after his death in 1993.
Hasson is one of only three women the report accuses of child sexual abuse. One nun, Sister Francis Marie Yocum, also belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. A 75-year-old woman reported in 2012 that Yocum sexually abused her in 1954 when she was a student vocalist at Baltimore’s Catholic High School.
“The Sisters of St. Francis are distressed and shocked by the allegation against one of our congregation. Our prayers and concern are with the victim and all victims of any such occurrences,” the order said in a statement after the report’s release. “We offer our support in the healing process however possible.”